Deep breathing is definitely one of the quickest and most efficient and effective ways to regulate your nervous system. If you want to learn more about some fun ways to incorporate deep breathing into your Play Therapy sessions check out this blog HERE!
BUT for some young people deep breathing isn’t their jam… and that’s ok! I wanted to offer some alternatives to deep breathing for emotional regulation for young people you work with!
When we become dysregulated and our sympathetic nervous system begins to take over we produce stress hormones including the fast acting adrenaline and longer acting cortisol. These hormones can lead to anxious or depressed mood, stress, and fatigue.
Exercise or moving your body can be a regulation superpower. First, it helps reduce the stress hormones levels in your body and it also produces endorphins which are our natural painkillers and also boost mood.
Soo...does this mean that we should tell kids to do push ups when they are anxious or angry? Well...maybe? I mean if they like pushups sure!
Really it is any way they want to move their bodies - a bike ride, jumping on the trampoline, a dance party...all of those are good options! You can get some movement in during the session OR you can help brainstorm ways to create intentional periods of movement at home.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique where you progressively tense and relax the muscle groups in your body paired with controlled deep breaths in and out.
One of my favorite Progressive muscle relaxation is done by pretending you are doing silly things as you tense and release your muscle groups. I learned a version of this script HERE in a Yoga Calm training and kids LOVE it! You can squeeze your hands like squeezing lemons, stretch your arms out like you are a cat, and pull your head and shoulders in like you are a turtle. I also love to “shake it out” with a whole body shake in between each animal!
Another favorite of mine is this Melt Away relaxation script. Here you imagine the sun shining down on each muscle group and imagine all the tension melting away. They give ideas of what your tension is melting away like as snow or butter...however with all the muscle groups it can get a bit repetitive. I also like to have the tension melt away like ice cream, a snow cone, or ice.
As a Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapist I truly believe that the messages that young people say to themselves hold such power over the way they feel and what they choose to do next.
Sometimes kids get really good at shifting the messages they are giving themselves, but other young people….need help! Check out this FREE download of 15 printable affirmations for self regulation HERE!
Some of my favorites? I am safe, I have choices, and I am loved. Repeating these affirmations with breaths can create a felt sense of safety and significantly helps with regulation!
Mindfulness is the intentional practice of bringing attention and awareness fully to the present moment without judgement. This allows us to break away from self-judgement that often leads to dysregulation.
This video HERE has a great explanation of mindfulness and it is kind of funny too. Full disclaimer - this is probably not a great video for younger children. It..well...it uses the word pissed. I know it’s pretty edgy. BUT it does have a unicorn and rainbow scene so that makes up for it right? Maybe just for you, or for some of your teens.
OK if you are looking for a video for younger children check out this video HERE! OR anything by Cosmic Kids Zen Den!
Some of my favorite mindfulness decks for kids are the Monkey Mind Meditation Deck and the Mindful Kids cards. Looking for a freebie? Check out the 20 Mindful Moments Cards from Sanford Health.
Now it’s your turn! Comment below with your favorite non-breathing techniques for regulation!
Looking for more resources for regulation? Check out my training on Keep Calm and Regulate On: Play Therapy and the Neuroscience of Emotional Regulation!
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I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC, RPT-S, and EMDR Consultant. I help other therapists grow in their passions as play therapists, trauma therapists,and child and adolescent therapists.