By: Jordan Masters, MSW, LGSW
Kids, teens, and honestly, adults too could all benefit from learning a few more ways to calm down their bodies and minds when negative emotions start to take over. These skills are often called self-regulation or grounding techniques. It’s the process the brain goes through that allows for control over behaviors and emotions in response to particular situations. It’s holding the skills to calm oneself down when emotions start to rise, to adjust expectations, and to handle frustration without the need for an outburst including using the body to hurt others. When people are able to listen to others, keep their bodies to themselves, and pause before reacting they are practicing self-control.
Most often, self-regulation is a foundation skill learned in early childhood. If we teach children strategies to stay calm in upsetting or stressful situations, they start to develop habits they can continue to use throughout their lives. Fortunately, we can learn new skills and techniques at any age with an open mind and desire for change. These techniques revolve around using the five senses of touch, taste, smell, hear, and see to ground oneself. Below are two grounding exercises that ask kids and adults to utilize their five senses to stop negative emotions from overwhelming them.
For kids, ask your child to hold out their hand and look at their hand.
· Take a few deep breaths, inhaling all the way into the tummy.
· Touch the tip of your thumb and think of something you love to see.
· Slide your finger up to the tip of your index finger and think of something you love to touch.
· Slide your finger down and up to the tip of your middle finger and think of a sound you love to hear.
· Slide to the tip of your ring finger and think of something you love to smell.
· Slide to the tip of your pinky finger and think of something you love to taste.
· Finish my tracing over your hand again and say out-loud or think to yourself “I am safe, I am loved.”
For adults, you can do this exact same technique in a different way called the 5-4-3-2-1 method.
· Look for FIVE things you can see: Notice the color of a chair or the shape of a plant, take time to really look around you.
· Feel for FOUR things you can touch: The hardness of the chair underneath you, the softness of the shirt you are wearing. Maybe take notice of the sensation of the ground beneath you.
· Acknowledge THREE things you hear: Try not to make judgments, just listen. The breeze blowing through trees, the lawnmower in the distance.
· Notice TWO things you can smell: If this feels hard at first take a big breath in and focus on the lingering scent in the air or take an inhale of the shirt you’re wearing for the remaining scent of detergent.
· Become aware of ONE thing you can taste: Bad breath counts, maybe it’s the coffee you had that morning or the onions you munched on for lunch.
Repeat this process as many times as necessary to bring you back to the present. Take time to notice how you feel afterward. It’s important to remember no matter how far your mind wanders or how elevated you start to feel, the present moment is always here for you to come back.
Continue to encourage your kids (and yourself) to practice these techniques when you’re feeling big emotions but also when you’re feeling calm so that it becomes a habit for everyone to utilize the body in staying grounded!