As a parent of two kiddos with 10 years of experience working as an Occupational Therapist,I know how hectic life can be for modern day families with ALL types of kids. I know how pulled we can all feel, how overstimulated life can be, and how at times, we can all feel like we have way too much technology and real life to process. This feeling affects parents and kids alike, and if left untended, can lead to high stress levels within the family, and difficulty with everyday tasks.
It's my yoga & mindfulness training that grounds me and reminds me of the importance of one simple, easy to implement concept--a peaceful space. I believe every child deserves a designated space in their home environment to use as a retreat from the world or a time-in. When we offer a child this opportunity, we both model and teach the importance of respecting the brain's and body's need for downtime, which translates to a happier kid and eventually, a healthier adult across all spectrums.
Through my life's work, I have found that creating a peaceful space in your home or classroom can be one of the most beneficial, low-budget, practical and easy strategies. It's fast and easy, and it supports a developing nervous system and soothes difficulty with sensory processing! A peaceful space can also prevent meltdowns by nipping overwhelm in the bud. It empowers a child to feel a sense of control over his or her own environment. These spaces encourage the use of self-regulation and calming techniques that can generalize into a healthy, calmer adolescence and adulthood.
The best part about these spaces is that they are
easy to create, and they apply to adults, too!
Parents, make sure to find a peaceful space of your own in your home and model going to that place when you need a quiet moment. Talk to your kids about how everyone needs a recharge and some calm space every now and then; it's just part of being human in modern times. As you do this for yourself, your children will begin to mirror your actions and become more self aware of when they need to retreat. Don't be surprised when they start going to their space when they need it, and suggesting others might need to go to their retreat as well. Also, expect that you will begin to feel more self-regulated through this practice, too!
For Parents and Adults: It's okay if your peaceful space is in the corner of your closet amidst shoes and tank tops (ahem, despite the fact I have an aerial yoga studio in my house, the closet is the only surefire spot where I can always get quiet and alone when I need it). Your peaceful space could be on the back porch, in your favorite comfy chair, in the parked car with the music on, a workshop bench in the garage or it could be sitting at a window that draws good light. For adults, it could be anywhere in your home, just designate a place that has calming and comforting elements to you (if you don't have one, make one), and go to it for solace, even if it only means just standing there long enough to take 5 breaths when you are at your wits end and trying your best not to lose your parenting cool. 5 breaths, just FIVE breaths, can make a difference between yelling and modeling healthy self-regulation. When you pass by this spot as you go through the day, just take a mindful breath, allow there to be a sense of recharge in the inhale and a sense of letting go of what you no longer need to hold in the exhale. Notice the empowerment of a space that is YOURS, and feels calming to you (even if only for a few seconds), and step mindfully back into the hustle with a tad more fuel for your tank and a healthier neurochemical response in your brain, whether you are aware of it or not.
* When creating these spaces for your kids, please allow the child to participate in the creation and selection of items as much as possible. Research shows child-led activities for creation lead to increased child participation. Create your own rules and parameters for the peaceful space that work for your individual family and child, but generally it is a place for solace and recharge, not a place for punishment or time-out. It can be utilized positively as an option for a child that is melting down, but often, many kids will go to these spaces on their own as long as there is an element of fun and comfort to the space and as long as the child has practiced going to this space regularly when they are already in a feel-good state.
This space is a place for finding a calmer perspective so we can access better problem solving. It's also a space to just feel how we feel safely (without hurting or negatively affecting others) and learn to feel comfortable in our own skin even when emotions are big or overwhelming. I encourage any peaceful space to be technology screen free as much as possible because screens require significant sensory processing, which works against the effort of a peaceful space. However, using a screen device to play peaceful music or a meditation might be an acceptable option for you and your family.
Peace Place: This space needs to have 2-3 walls/sides. It needs to offer comfort and be a smaller space with defined boundaries. It can be a tent indoors, a huge cardboard box, a blanket thrown over a table, the underside of a loft bed, a nook under the stairs or anything that works for your child in their environment. Incorporate soft surfaces inside the peace place. This is a sensory retreat to prevent or come down from fight or flight/stress response. It should offer solace from visual distraction, auditory/noise level (use noise canceling headphones if needed or white noise machine). When the child is in this space, she should receive a respite from everyday demands and sensory overwhelm (retreat from noise, visual distraction, siblings, etc). Brainstorm with your child about what to put in the peaceful space. Maybe there's only a pillow and blanket in the space. You could also provide calming toys such as fidget toys for the hands, a white noise machine, books, music or meditations, chewy toys or any object that is of comfort to the child. Often, I find younger kids will take quiet toys into this space (cars, baby dolls, tea sets, stuffed animals). Older kids might take a book or listen to music on headphones. Educate others in the family about the peace place, why the child needs it/deserves this space, and how its use needs to be respected. An Aerial yoga hammock or an indoor hanging chair offers a calming movement component to the peace place and can be utilized as such.
Soft Spot : A "Soft Spot" is a very confined space for receiving calming deep pressure to the body that is regulating to the nervous system. Research demonstrates that an even deep pressure applied across the body is one way to trigger the relaxation response of the nervous system! This is one reason why swaddling babies works so well! Deep pressure is soothing to the nervous system and this technique works across the lifespan. You can teach your child how to find and create comfortable spaces that provide compression to the body in a comfortable way. Often, you will see smaller kids climbing into laundry baskets, cabinets, cardboard boxes or shelves as they seek out this kind of space naturally. However, older kids benefit from this kind of space, too! Older kids might like an oversized bean bag chair, a hammock, or even something as simple as a corner in a couch. Other ideas include: a laundry basket/oversized Tupperware bin with blankets inside or a pile of 5-7 pillows in between a small space such as between the furniture and the wall. It can also be a huge bean bag, a padded space under a loft bed or a mummy style sleeping bag for older kids. The child goes to this space as another option for calming down or for self-regulation.
Calm Zone: This is a section of the classroom or home that has different calming activities. It's basically a peace place with bonus activities. This works really well for homeschoolers, preschoolers or younger elementary ages in a classroom. I also encourage this kind of to-do space for kids who have a hard time being still and quiet in a typical peace place, but still benefit from the calming elements of this space. It also works really well as a time-in space-not as punishment for unwanted behavior, but as support for behavior that doesn't serve the child and/or others. Get creative and have fun in the calm zone, but it is typically a space designated for allowing retreat from the hustle. It could have breathing activities, yoga pose cards, fidget toys, a place to lean back/forward (rocking chair) or a chair for the child to use for turning upside down to invert the head (inverting the head helps tremendously with self-regulation) reading, drawing, calming music or meditation and calm activities to allow your child a place to retreat. You can integrate soft spots into the calm zone as well! You can also set up a timer and offer a child 15 minutes of retreat in this zone before and/or after doing homework, chores or anything that is the child may find difficult or may need encouragement to complete.
Lindsey Lieneck, MS, OTR, RYT, is owner of Yogapeutics in Austin, TX where she has developed the Yogapeutics Aerial Yoga & Mindfulness curriculum for kids. She teaches classes, consults with parents & schools and educates other professionals on the Yogapeutics curriculum. Read more about Lindsey HERE.
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