“Sometimes my skin gets burning hot and my jaw and fists feel hard as rocks (Garcia, 2017).” In her picture book Listening to My Body, Gabi Garcia narrates the main character noticing sensations in his body as he becomes nervous, excited, angry, etc.
When teaching young children to improve coping skills, it is imperative that we teach them how to notice when their body is sending them a signal that stress is becoming overwhelming.
So, what might your child notice is happening in their body as they become stressed? Sweaty palms, increased heart rate, ringing in ears, flushed cheeks, becoming short-tempered, etc. are all signs that the stress being experienced is becoming detrimental to your child’s physical and mental well-being.
How do we teach our children to listen to their bodies? In Some Days I Flip My Lid, Kellie Bailey (2019) writes, “The trick, she said, was to notice and see when I start feeling mad or shake in my knees. She told me to notice when my eyes start to close, and then…breathe on purpose right through my nose!”
Here are a few other tricks you can use at home to encourage body awareness in your children.
5 Ways to Develop Body Awareness in Children
Get your child talking.
Start by simply asking children to talk about what is happening in their bodies when you notice big feelings. If your child is excited, say, “You seem so excited! What do you feel in your body right now?” Or, if your child is upset, you might say, “When I am upset, I notice that my jaw gets tight or my face feels hot. What happens in your body when you are upset?”
Carve out time for mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a practice where children can really tune in to the “here and now.” Some ways to encourage mindfulness is to practice breathing exercises. Here is a wonderful guided meditation for children video on YouTube that you can try to get started. Yoga for children can also be a way to encourage various body sensations.
Read (and learn) about body awareness together.
See the following book titles for more inspiration: Listening to My Body by Gabi Garcia, Some Days I Flip My Lid by Kellie Bailey, Breathe Like a Bear by Kira Willey, I am Peace by Susan Verde, and Positive Ninja by Mary Nhin. These titles all encourage children to notice various sensations in their bodies and use mindful breathing to regulate.
Encourage healthy ways to regulate.
Exercise, art, deep breathing, rest, hydrating, music, etc are all healthy activities your child can try to regulate their emotions. The bigger a child’s coping toolbox is, the better chance he or she will have at learning to manage stress in a healthy way.
Try an online course.
The Lily-Jo Project manages an online learning platform that has specific lessons for children geared on navigating anxiety and other emotions. For more information, you can visit The Lily-Jo Project’s online learning platform here.
As one final consideration, children will not learn how to be body aware and manage stress in healthy ways from adults who do not model these skills on a regular basis. Ensure that you are keeping up with your own self-care and managing stress in a healthy way so that your child has something to emulate.
If you need more help and support, The Lily-Jo Project has a group on Facebook geared towards providing parents and those that work with youth with resources and tips. I moderate the group, and we would love to have you. You can join here.
About the Author
Brandy Browne is an early childhood educator in the United States, as well as a family coach and blogger for UnStuck (www.unstucks.com), her family coaching service aimed at helping families develop positive habits and breaking the cycle of generational trauma and poverty.
Her education is in early and elementary education, and she also has a masters degree in parenting and child/adolescent development. Brandy is a wife to her high school sweetheart of fifteen years, and together they share three children, aged ten, seven, and five. In her free time, she enjoys reading, gardening, writing, and distance running.