1. Turn that frown upside down. Literally! Get your kid to invert the head either by picking them up yourself or by having them turn upside down any way you can imagine! Inversions help bring the nervous system back into balance! Ever see your kids turn upside down on the couch, bed or chair edge? Or hang upside down from a trapeze or playscape? Or lean way back in a kamikaze head dive to invert their heads while you are holding them on your hip? Or do "down-dog" yoga pose at an early age as if they'd been attending class for years? They do that because the head inversion feels GOOD and it is regulating to the nervous system!
2. Breathe! I know it's cliché, but it seriously works. It is the one voluntary way we can shift from the fight, flight or freeze stress response to a more relaxed state. But just telling a kid to "breathe" doesn't usually work well. We need to practice it in playful ways regularly in everyday life when they are calm for it to work as a cue when they are approaching stress or melt down status.
You can cue your kids in a fun way during the day by asking them to send a "b-mail", which is a breathing message to your brain to tell it to relax. Cue them in the car, as they are settling down for bed, before you go into a restaurant or any place where they are expected to be calm. How many messages will they send? How full can they make their inbox? Or see how many times they can make a pinwheel spin in one breath by breathing out slowly through pursed lips for as long as possible. We also light candles at the dinner table and see if each child can blow them all out in one breath. This increases the exhale duration, which primes the nervous system for a more relaxed state and helps all the calming neurotransmitters do their good work in the brain.
Once your child knows how to practice breathing it can work for you like it did for me in the middle of the night last night when my 5 year old jolted me out of slumber at 2am with a case of "the worries." We practiced imagining the thing that was worrying her, then blowing it out with a long breath like the kind we do when we are spinning a pinwheel as many times as we can or blowing out lots of candles on a birthday cake. 5 breaths later she was ready to go to sleep again. No kidding, it can be that easy! It works like a fast acting anxiety med without all the side effects! The best part about it is that you don't have to be a kid to get the benefits. Breathing with long exhales works on ALL human brains.
3. Physically connect without talking. Our brains work best and get bathed in "happy" neurotransmitters and hormones when we receive positive touch from loved ones. Research shows that positive touch creates neural wiring for deeper emotional connection to the person offering/receiving touch. And better emotional connection means better team work when you are together. See if you can send your message of love or support to your child through your body language only. Kids get so much verbal feedback, and most of it is about what they can't or shouldn't do. Sometimes they just need a quiet, calming presence with loving intention focused on emotional connection instead of verbally praising or correcting outcomes and behavior. Physical touch by way of firm pressure (try palms of hands instead of fingers) is tolerated best and generally calming to the nervous system.
In my house, if we are at a distance (across a room or across the yard), we might hold up the American Sign Language sign for "I love you." When we are close to each other, we give "hand hugs" and do a deep pressure massage at the end of the night. Sometimes, when we are walking outside or on the way to school we pretend we are sending the morse code by hand holding and squeezing in a pattern. We end the code with one long squeeze before we talk. Then we see if the other can guess what we "said". Or we write each other love messages on each other's backs (with firm touch--light touch can be too ticklish or uncomfortable) by drawing pictures or writing words. These physical connection practices also teach mindfulness, which has so many positive benefits towards mental health!
It's easy to add self-regulation sensory strategies into your family's everyday life! No need to add it to your plate. Just attach it to what you already do! May you enjoy peace, connection and better self-regulation that finds you through these practices!
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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