Anxiety, anger, boredom, stress and restlessness alert us to issues that need to be addressed. The discomfort they trigger is sometimes hard to deal with, and can send us spinning. Although I have found that calming techniques for adults are not always appropriate for kids, the reverse is not true. Children calming activities can be very effective for adults as well.
In my work with children and their families, I often recommend activities based on brain science and sensory processing to help calm the brain, organize thinking, increase focus, and wellbeing.
Using How the Brain Works to Calm Ourselves, Organize Thinking and Increase Focus
All the activities below are great for you and your kids. I like to explain to my children exactly how these activities help their brain. It not only tells them that they are not powerless, but it also gives them basic instructions for working within the boundaries of their individual biology.
- Sweeping, raking and mopping- Chores, calming? You bet. Whenever one side of your body crosses your midline (think nose, bellybutton) to reach to the opposite side, your brain calms down. The coordination needed is more challenging, as your brain has to engage both sides to accomplish the task. When combined with rhythmic movement, such as sweeping, it becomes a perfect activity for calming and organized thinking. Exercises that involve a lot of reach across, such as dancing, martial arts, and racket sports are also very beneficial.
- Strength and resistance calms the brain-Your brain loves information. Receptors throughout your body register pressure, and then send input back to your brain for processing. If you love a heavy blanket or heavy labor, your brain needs more of this input than most. If on the contrary you prefer light blankets or light activity, your brain might be overly sensitive to this type input. For many of us, exercise that provides heavy input is calming. In which case, taking breaks throughout the day to perform 10 wall or floor pushups, or for jumping up and down, jogging in place, receiving a tight hug, or stretching can be very soothing. These activities also help with attention and self-regulation.
- Counting and alphabet games-A challenge can be exactly what your brain needs when you feel restless or anxious. Try these tricks: count backwards from 100. If that’s too easy, count backwards in increments of 3 (100, 97, 94…). You can also use the alphabet, to make up a positive soup. For each letter of the alphabet, come up with something you appreciate (I got that one from Eric, at The One You Feed). So for example, A is for Anna because she makes me smile, B is for Brightness because I love a sunny day, C is for Caring because it makes me happy to give back…
- Write, draw, and do activities with your non-dominant hand-Your brain loves to discover new pathways. Every time you break-up your routine and do things a little differently, your mood brightens up. It doesn’t take much either. Try writing with your non-dominant hand or drawing a self-portrait. It’s about having fun, not achieving perfection. Try to concentrate on the effort, not the quality of the outcome. You can also switch hands when eating and brushing your teeth for similar results.
- Balance exercises are also calming- Balancing requires physical strength, agility, vestibular processing (crystals in your ears that register positional changes and send messages to your brain), and proprioception (receptors in your joints that relay feelings of pressure to your brain). It’s such a complex activity, your brain loves it. I often stand on one foot when I brush my teeth, then I switch half way. A fun activity to do with kids is to have a balance endurance contest. For example, you could make them stand on one foot while they have to make funny gestures with their arms. You can think up all kind of scenarios to make it more entertaining for them.
These are just a few suggestions based on brain science, but the possibilities are endless. Teachers can easily include them into their daily routines, and parents can encourage their kids to take “brain breaks” throughout the day.