The body and the brain are so interconnected. When children or adults get overwhelmed by feelings, be it anxiety, fear, frustration, anger etc. this is registered not only in the brain but also in the body. Their heart rate will increase, their hands may get sweaty, their fists or jaws may clench and their breathing will become shallow. They can use the body to calm the brain, self-regulation can be achieved and they can feel a sense of control once again. Here are strategies for achieving this.
The 4 B’s
- Put the Brakes On: It is important to learn ways to put the brakes on to stop these feelings from getting bigger. Putting the brakes on helps release muscle tension and decreases the excess energy produced by the feelings. Here’s how to put the brakes on. Have your child sit and press the palms of his/her hands together for 5-10 seconds. This should be repeated several times. What it does is engage the muscles of the outer arms and the shoulders which are muscles involved in containment.
- Breathing: Breathing helps regain a sense of body awareness and helps restore a sense of calm. It also helps to ground the body. Teach you child to breathe into the belly/abdomen. Have your child put one hand on his/her abdomen and one hand on his/her chest. Instruct your child that s/he will want to feel the belly rise and not the chest. Have your child imagine that there is a balloon in his/her belly and that with each inhale, the balloon fills and the abdomen expands. Then exhale through the mouth as if s/he was blowing into a straw. Once your child has learned abdominal breathing, have him/her calm down with “Take 5 Breathing”. 1. Have your child stretch out his/her hand like a star. 2. Child uses his/her pointer finger to trace up and down around the fingers. 3.The pointer finger slides up each finger slowly and down the other side. 4. The child breathes in through the nose and out through the mouth. 5. Put it all together – breath in sliding up and breathing out sliding down. Keep going until your child has finished tracing his/her hand. (See image here.)
- Activate the Brain: Have you child place his/her hands on the top of his/her hands and apply a light pressure. This calms the body and activates the brain.
- Use the Body: Have your child cross his/her arms in front of his/her body and apply pressure as if to hug him/herself. This increases body awareness and sense of security, calm and focus. You can include a soft toy for the hug.
Once your child has learned these activities, s/he can use them anytime s/he needs to feel calm.