Methods of Self Regulation to Practice with Kids
We call yoga a “practice” not because we are looking for it to become “perfect,” but because it is a practice for life. Through yoga, young people (and those who care for them) can learn some cool tools to put in their Life Tool-Belts. Some of the most beneficial tools are those that can assist us in calming down and processing big emotions like frustration, fear, anxiety, anger, rejection, pain, and sadness.
When kids are in meltdown/tantrum/upset mode, the ability to reason and think is temporarily shut down. Their little systems are so overwhelmed that uploading new coping skills to them during that crisis-time will probably be unsuccessful (to say the least). Therefore, it is important to practice the skills ahead of time, so that using them can (hopefully) become second nature when needed the most.
So, here are some ideas to PRACTICE that you can try out with your children. They each only take a few minutes, so try one out while sitting in the carpool line or waiting for dinner in a restaurant, or even add one to your getting-ready-for-bed routine.
Five Little Ways to Shift Big Feelings
Releasing Fists Make the hands into tight fists; breathe in. Spread the fingers wide while breathing out. While breathing in, fully imagine the feeling inside the fists. As you exhale, imagine the feeling shooting, floating, or seeping out through the spread fingertips. Pay special attention to how the fingers and hands are feeling during the exercise.
Bunny Breaths Take four short little inhales, followed by a long, FULL exhale. Repeat three times,...or as many times as needed. Wiggling noses on the inhale, rabbit-style, is strongly encouraged. Stuffed animals (especially bunnies) are especially adept at demonstrating this technique.
PBWM Take a deep breath in. On the exhale, press the tips of the thumbs to the tips of the fingers, one at a time. While pressing the thumb-tip to the first-finger-tip, think or say the word “Peace.” While pressing the middles fingers to the thumbs, say “Begins.” As the ring finger presses the thumb, think or say “With.” As the pinky fingertip presses to the thumb, say “Me”. The pressure of the fingertips and thumbs pressing helps to bring mindfulness to a different part of the body, and to punctuate the words into our thoughts, so that we might start to believe them.
Self Hugs Pressure on the body can also help to release the cortisol that rises when big feelings take over. Asking children if they want a hug is reasonable, but we also must be ready to respect their answer if they choose to decline the offer. This is where a Self Hug could help. Stretch the arms out wide and inhale while imagining breathing in light, love, peace, patience, a cheeseburger – whatever you need most right then. While exhaling, wrap your arms over the chest, opposite hands on opposite shoulders, hugging yourself, twisting or rocking side-to-side. Repeat the action and breath, but cross the opposite arm on top next.
Square Breathing Imagining the palm of a hand as a “square,” trace a finger from the opposite hand up one side of the palm while breathing in a count of three. While tracing the finger across the top of the square (palm), hold that breath for three counts. Trace the finger down the edge of the palm while breathing out to the count of three. Hold the breath out while running the finger along the wrist for three counts. Repeat as needed.
Truly, Big Feelings Require BIG Movements
These five tools are mostly for locations when large movements of the body may not be possible or socially appropriate, like at school, in the car, time to leave a friend’s house, or the toy aisle in Target (we’ve all been there). However, big movements are the best for shaking that cortisol (stress hormone) loose from our systems, so dancing, walking, running, climbing, jumping, shaking, balancing, and yoga poses are the ultimate activities for regulating the nervous system. “More green time than screen time,” like a little extra time at a playground or some kitchen-dancing will go a long way toward a smoother day for the whole family.
Oh – and, no pressure, but,... we all know that children imitate what we do more than what we say. They are paying attention to how we manage our own stresses when they occur. Maybe modeling one of these five little tricks in real-life will help to cement it into their own actions,..and might ease some of your stress along that path, too.
Personally, I had to take on saying “Peace Begins With Me” while tapping my fingertips whenever my kids cannot find their shoes when we try to leave the house. I try to look at those times as opportunities for practicing my own patience and self-regulation,...although I can’t say that I always succeed. It is definitely “practice”.
It Takes a Village
One lesson I need to remember to integrate as a mother is that our children don’t always listen when they think that a source of wisdom originates from their parents. Truly, this is part of the reason why “It takes a Village to Raise a Child.” Outsourcing some important life lessons - like how to self-regulate - takes some of the pressure off us as parents. Please reach out if we can help by offering virtual or in-person practices for your children.
With that said, thank you for the honor of allowing me to be part of your village. It is a privilege I don’t take lightly, and I am delighted for the opportunity to share and collaborate with you in Freedom Youth Yoga’s motto of “Creating World Peace, One Kid at a Time.”
Follow Freedom Youth Yoga on Facebook and Instragram, where we will post videos of examples of all five tools soon.
Your Experiences are Important! In the comments section, please tell us about your experiences with any of these five tools, and feel free to share any other practices that have been successful for you. Wel ove to hear any stories about how your children are using their yoga "off the mat".