With the holidays around the corner, many look forward to celebrations and family gatherings. However, holiday excitement can be quite challenging for children who struggle with self-regulation. Some children who struggle with controlling their bodies and emotions will benefit from working with a physical or occupational therapist for specific challenges. Determining whether or not your child might need this type of intervention will be addressed in a later article. In the meantime, most can enjoy these fun activities that will help your children prepare their minds and bodies for the coming weeks.
One key to improving self-regulation is activating your child’s proprioceptive system. Proprioception is a sense just like our other better known 5 senses (vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) The proprioceptive sense tells us where we are in space. Activating the proprioceptive system sends messages to the brain to help children (and adults) feel calm, organized, and alert.
Fun ways to increase body awareness and self-regulation at home:
- Supervise and let your child help you with chores that require some muscle – dig holes outside, move furniture, vacuum, take out trash, carry in the groceries.
- Playfully talk about and move your limbs, bodies, and toys – forward and backward, up and down, left and right, out and in. These games improve awareness of spatial relationships.
- Throwing or kicking a ball at a target or with a partner (not just throwing randomly).
- Experiment with moving in new, funny ways such as imitating animal walks. Examples: crawl on tummies like a lizard, or on hands and knees like a lion, stomp like an elephant, flap arms like an eagle.
- Isolate movements, such as tapping one foot at a time, or pinching clothespins. Keep it playful and fun, not stressful. Play kids hand games such as “Where is Thumbkin”.
- Play with variations of movement – soft/hard, fast/slow, big/small.
- Moving slowly and holding still are particularly helpful. Try a game of slow dance or freeze dance.
- Have fun with rhythms. Listening, singing or chanting to different rhythms. Dancing, drumming, tapping, clapping, etc. in time to music.
- Create a safe, snug spot to retreat to where boundaries are easy to feel around your whole body, such as a corner with some big pillows, or try decorating a big fun cardboard box to sit in.
- Kid’s yoga with breathing
Try using these techniques as tools before asking a child to sit down and focus, or as a study break (or dinner break) to help dissipate tension and wiggles. It is most helpful to predict the “storm” is coming, and use these tools to settle the body to try to avoid losing control rather than waiting until it has already blown. Consider practicing one or more of these activities in preparation for the holidays, as well as setting time aside shortly before sitting down to a special dinner or celebration.
Donna Drury is a physical therapist specializing in neuro developmental therapy for children with learning, behavior, or sensory challenges. She is fascinated with the elegance and power that movement has in making changes in the way the brain functions. Her goal and passion is using movements to help kids and teens reach their maximum potential in school and in life.