Somatics for Children: Helping Little Ones ThriveJan 29, 2023
By acknowledging our children’s emotions, we are helping them learn skills for soothing themselves, skills that will serve them well for a lifetime.
-John Gottman, Ph.D.
Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.
"Somatic" refers to the body-mind connection - the integration of thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.
When we notice something isn't quite right in our bodies, it's a sign that our thoughts and emotions need some attention too.
Children are especially attuned to their bodily sensations and can often sense when something is off long before adults do.
However, they may not have the words to express what they're feeling or understand how to deal with it healthily.
That's where somatics comes in!
By teaching children simple techniques like breathing exercises and gentle movement, we can help them release tension, reduce stress, and boost their overall well-being.
Keep reading to learn more about how somatics can benefit children of all ages.
The Impact of Environment, Emotions, and Experiences on a Child's Development
Growing up is a complicated stage of life, where children must take on new roles and responsibilities while also grappling with feelings of insecurity and uncertainty. The environment and emotions surrounding them and their childhood experiences significantly influence how children make sense of the world and grow into healthy adults.
For example, when a child is raised in an environment that emphasizes physical punishment more than instruction and rewards, they may become scared of making mistakes or feel undeserving of love. It can decrease their chances of success in the future.
On the other hand, if parents treat children in a warm manner by empathizing with their difficult emotions and consistently providing healthy structure, it can result in a positive self-perception and respect for others.
It’s clear that our environment in childhood has far-reaching implications for the rest of our lives. It’s up to all of us to ensure that every child has access to a safe and enriching place to grow.
The Role of Somatic Practices in Helping Children Manage Emotions
Somatic practices, such as mindful breathing and yoga, have been proven to help children regulate their emotions and develop healthy boundaries.
For instance, a 2022 study among teens in middle school showed that those who participated in mindfulness and yoga experienced reduced anxiety and depression symptoms.
While we need more research, the initial results also have several positive implications. It means that kids:
- Have a better understanding of their emotions and triggers
- Can recognize when they need to take a break or ask for help
- Feel empowered to take control of their own well-being
- Are less likely to give in to social or peer pressure
- Can cope better with the demands of school and extracurricular activities
- May perform well in school and at home
Most of all, because they are aware and understand the sensations in their body in response to stress or intense emotions, children learn how to respond with more intention rather than using a reactionary approach.
This is because somatic activities:
- Teach them how to be aware of patterns that may lead to emotional overwhelm and give them room to express their emotions without judgment or shame
- Offer children the opportunity for self-regulation
- Strengthen the bonding and attachment with parents because it helps both parties better understand one another’s feelings
- Equipped them with the tools to help them form secure, meaningful, and long-lasting relationships
Somatic Tips and Suggestions to Incorporate into a Child's Daily Routine
Implementing somatic practices in a child's everyday routine can really make a difference. And I have tips that can help you get started:
- Use play to teach children to recognize their emotions and body sensations
- Guide kids through simple breathing exercises
- Encourage them to express themselves through art or writing while providing emotional support
Let's expand on each of these.
1. Use Play to Teach Children to Recognize Their Emotions and Body Sensations
Using play to teach children to recognize their emotions and body sensations can be a fun way of teaching children important skills that will last them a lifetime. Playing with puppets, dolls, or action figures can help children act out different emotions, giving them a chance to explore how it feels for them personally.
Explaining what body sensations come with particular emotions can be another great way to introduce this concept.
For example, you can point out that your fists might clench or your heart might race during angry moments.
Engaging in sensory activities like painting, clay-making, and playing in the sand can also provide helpful pathways for enacting feelings and gaining more awareness of the physical effects of emotion.
While everyone learns differently, allowing children to explore their feelings through play can make a huge difference in helping them recognise their emotions and body sensations better.
2. Guide Kids through Simple Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises can be incredibly beneficial for children to help them maintain physical and mental health:
- Boosting lung capacity by practicing breathing techniques gives a child's respiratory system a chance to build up strength and stamina while also helping to combat inflammation.
- The focus these exercises give kids can help them stay calm and reduce anxiousness during high-stress situations.
- Engaging in regular breathing exercises can be an important part of teaching children how to monitor their stress levels and find ways to self-soothe that don't involve relying on external outlets like video games or television.
But how do you get kids into a habit of accessing somatic practices? A great first step is to start with a simple guided meditation. You can try this one:
- Have the child sit in a comfortable position, either with their legs crossed or feet flat on the ground. Encourage them to close their eyes and take slow deep breaths.
- Allow them to focus on their breathing as they inhale and exhale through their nose.
- Once they feel comfortable enough, ask them to count to four to take a deep breath in through the nose. Let them hold their breath for seven seconds and then slowly exhale for four counts through the mouth.
- Once the meditation is complete, encourage them to take a moment to note how they feel.
3. Encourage Them to Express Themselves through Art or Writing while Providing Emotional Support
Using art or writing to explore emotion can be an incredibly powerful tool for helping children process the complex feelings they experience. During debriefing, for instance, social workers may ask survivors or witnesses to draw a picture.
Encouraging kids to express their emotions through art and writing can provide them with a great outlet for their anxieties, helping to create more balance in the body and mind.
Not only does this help them develop healthy coping strategies and valuable self-care skills, but it also shows them that their feelings are important and valid.
As adults, we can provide our children with supportive guidance as they explore these paths of expression, creating an environment where they feel safe to be as imaginative and creative as possible.
Great creative somatic practices for children include:
- Drawing or doodling
- Writing stories or poems
- Making music
- Crafting masks or puppets
Teaching children how to identify and manage their emotions through somatic practices is critical in a noisy world where children are exposed to many stresses.
Whether focusing on breathing exercises, expressing emotions through art or writing, or helping them understand the physical effects of emotion, these practices can help them build healthy coping mechanisms that will serve them well into adulthood.
If you are a parent, teacher, or caretaker of a child, you can learn more about how to be a great supporter and guide in teaching children somatic practices by joining my trauma certification program.
You can also be part of the Facebook community to ask questions and connect with other parents, teachers, and professionals around the world who are supporting kids in their somatic practices.
This way, you will feel more confident in your ability to support young people on their healing journey.
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