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For our little ones, it can be uncomfortable to have BIG feelings! Oftentimes, it feels "bad" to feel emotions like anger, sadness, and jealousy, when in reality, there are no "bad" feelings - some are just more uncomfortable than others. It's important to recognize that it is how we respond to these emotions that can be helpful or detrimental to ourselves and others. That is where coping skills come in!

Coping skills are tools we can use to adjust and respond to difficult feelings. These tools can look different for each child, depending on their specific stressor or struggle. Sensory coping skills are wonderful tools to help teach our children how to tune into their own body's experience of difficult emotions and experiences, and to learn how to bring calm to their stress response. 

You can quickly and easily teach your children these 4 simple and effective methods for self-regulation, and practice mindfulness together. Knowing how to self-regulate is a helpful tool that encourages higher self-esteem, healthier decision-making, and a more positive self concept in our little ones

4 Sensory Focused Coping Skills for Children

Lazy 8 Breathing

This breathing exercise is a very simple tool to help teach kids deep breathing. It is a breathing exercise that helps to focus your attention on the present moment, and calms down your heightened state. One of the best things about the Lazy 8 is that it can be practiced anywhere at any time! Follow the prompts below and encourage your child to use this tool at their desk, on the top of their hand, in the air, or wherever else feels effective for them.

Step 1: Start with your finger on the star

Step 2: Take a deep breath in and trace your finger around the left side of the 8

Step 3: When you get back to the star, slowly let your breath out as you cross over to the other side

Step 4: Continue breathing around the Lazy 8 until you feel a calm mind and body

5-4-3-2-1 (Grounding with your FIVE Senses)

The 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique is a wonderful tool for your child to use whenever he or she is beginning to feel overwhelmed, nervous, or anxious. It focuses on using a child's senses to help them regulate their emotions (self-regulate). This activity also feels grounding because it helps to bring you back to the present moment, and your attention becomes more focused on the here-and-now, and less on the anxiety-provoking content. When you feel grounded, you are better able to take a deep breath, practice positive self-talk, and make better decisions. The activity involves all five senses and is very helpful for connecting yourself to your body, which is a big part of mindfulness!

Think of...

5 things you can SEE

4 things you can FEEL

3 things you can HEAR

2 things you can SMELL

1 thing you can TASTE

Progressive Muscle Relaxation 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is especially helpful for our littles that experience heightened levels of worry and anxiety. This intervention teaches you how to relax your muscles through a two-step process. The first step is systematically tensing certain muscle groups in your body, and the second step is releasing the tension and noticing how the muscles feel as you relax them. The most valuable way to practice progressive muscle relaxation is by starting with your toes, and working your way up until you reach your forehead. 

It's been said that the issues are in the tissues! Meaning that when we feel difficult emotions like grief, anxiety, and stress, our bodies can feel that in a variety of ways (i.e. headaches, lethargy, stomach aches). Progressive Muscle Relaxation helps to improve your mental state and tune into your body. It can lower overall feelings of anxiety, stress, and physical tightness and tension. It can also help reduce symptoms of insomnia and improve your sleep. Using this tool while trying to fall asleep allows your mind to slow down and refocus its attention to calming the body, instead of intrusive and troublesome thoughts that may be keeping you up. 

Helpful examples provided by Anxiety Canada:

  • Foot (curl your toes downward)
  • Lower leg and foot (tighten your calf muscle by pulling toes towards you)
  • Entire leg (squeeze thigh muscles while doing above)

(Repeat on other side of body)

  • Hand (clench your fist)
  • Entire right arm (tighten your biceps by drawing your forearm up towards your shoulder and “make a muscle”, while clenching fist)

(Repeat on other side of body)

  • Stomach (suck your stomach in)
  • Chest (tighten by taking a deep breath)
  • Neck and shoulders (raise your shoulders up to touch your ears)
  • Mouth (open your mouth wide enough to stretch the hinges of your jaw)
  • Eyes (clench your eyelids tightly shut)
  • Forehead (raise your eyebrows as far as you can)

Develop a "Menu" of Sensory Objects + Tools

Create a "menu" of sorts with your child that's full of a variety of sensory tools they can use in order to cope with big feelings or an excess of energy. Collaborate with your child on writing them down and post them on the fridge or bathroom mirror. See our helpful examples below!

Squeeze a stress ball, play dough, or putty

Use a silicone "popper"

Play with a fidget toy, beaded bracelet, Rubik's cube, pipe cleaner, makeup sponge, or unfilled balloon

Bounce a ball

Pop bubble wrap

Shred paper - so helpful for dealing with big feelings like anger, sadness, and frustration in a healthy way!

Dance, stretch, go for a walk

Bounce on an exercise ball or trampoline

Go for a walk

Take a shower or bubble bath

Wrap up in a blanket, take a nap, use a weighted blanket

Watch a lava lamp

Brush hair

Encourage your child to try a few physical and sensory coping strategies at least once when they are feeling worried, anxious, or upset, before deciding if they are helpful or not. Everyone is unique and some tools might be more helpful for some compared to others. We hope these tools help your child feel more empowered and confident, as they practice self-regulation when they ride the wave of BIG feelings and emotions! 

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