Do you remember those “follow the instruction” worksheets we were assigned in Elementary school? Usually, it would be a math worksheet or a reading passage with 3-5 follow up questions. The teacher would pass them out and instruct the class to read the instructions carefully and then to raise their hand when completed so she could collect them. Well, I was always the last one done. Not because I wasn’t smart; it’s just that I would forget to slow down and actually read the instructions. You know, instructions that clearly stated, “write your name at the top of this paper and do nothing else”. Ha!
So eager to do the work, I’d breeze past simple instructions and usually not notice until I went to write my name at the top (as my last step-oy vey!). Miss Rosie would just shake her head and say, “Slow down, Brittany.” And this wasn’t just an issue school. At home, I’d work myself up into a frenzy looking for a book or a stuffed animal. When I went running to my mom claiming it was “lost forever”, she would follow me to my room and go through the same routine each time. Holding my hand while we searched, she’d softly say “Slow down, baby. Think where you last had it.” Together, we could usually find it within minutes and more often than not, it was right under my nose.
Children who are highly emotional, are gifted, or have been diagnosed with a disorder that affects executive functioning (such as ADD/ADHD or ASD) can all struggle with the ability to calm the mind. Their minds are naturally stimulated, and that stimulation produces in an increase in the hormone cortisol- also known as the stress hormone. Our brains are designed to give priority to the emotional brain over the thinking brain. Therefore, when stress is heightened, executive functions such as memory, retention of new information, and attention to detail are all compromised. I was both highly emotional and gifted (and I strongly suspect ADD that went undiagnosed). In other words, I know all about the struggles these kiddos face. Having a mother that helped me “slow down, baby,” was my saving grace. If this sounds a lot like your child, here are some simple ways you can give that same gift.
5 Ways to Slow Down Your Child’s Brain & Stabilize Emotions:
- Practice deep breathing. Teach your child how to breathe in slowly and quietly through his nose and then out through his mouth. (Try telling him to pretend to “smell a flower, then blow on a dandelion” to master this.) You may do this with your child a few times in a moment of heighten emotion but encourage him to use this on his own throughout the day.
- Count to calm down. Teach your child to distract herself from upsetting thoughts by counting. Counting ceiling tiles in the classroom, counting 5 things they are grateful for on her fingers, or counting down from 100 are just a few mental tasks that might reduce her distress.
- Take a break. Allow your child to give himself a brief time-out to get a moment of privacy when he needs to collect himself. Make it clear to your child that he can do this before he potentially suffers any consequences. That sense of control can help lower any anxiety associated with his big emotions. Try coming up with a special, non-threatening code word he can employ when he needs a break.
- Create a “calm-down” corner. Designate a cozy corner of your child’s room or playroom as her relaxation spot. Fill it with pillows, blankets and/or stuffed animals you know she loves. Keep a basket of items nearby that help your child slow down, calm down or even cheer up. Coloring books and crayons, scratch-and-sniff stickers, books that your child enjoys, pictures of yoga poses she can try, and soothing music are just a few things that will engage her senses and help her manage her emotions.
- Unplug and venture into nature The best way to slow the mind and soothe the senses is to get some fresh air. This can be as simple as sitting on the front porch with your child for a few minutes- away from any distractions (phone, iPad, etc.). Encourage him to identify what’s appealing to each of his senses. Does he hear the birds singing? Can she smell the flowers? How does the grass feel between his toes? Once they are calm, you then have an opening to help problem solve whatever might be going on in their world.
Like us, our kids’ minds are always in motion. Add that to the hustle and bustle of their daily schedules-school, sports, music lessons, homework, chores, playtime and so much more-and you get over stimulated tiny humans. It’s crucial that we make time to be present with one other and for one another. Creating space for the “slow-down” tactics above promotes a practice of mindfulness that will benefit them throughout their entire lives. It’s been shown to decrease anxiety & depression, strengthen self-control, promote confidence, and improve overall physical health. Can you think of a greater gift for your child?