Regulating Emotions: Countdown to Calm

September 14, 2021

Regulating Emotions:
Countdown to Calm – 5…4…3…2…1
By Gabrielle Rozio, Psy.D.

Parents often report that their children have difficulty regulating their emotions (e.g., sad, embarrassed, confident, excited, etc.) in their school environment. Whether it be an unexpected fire drill, an argument during recess, or just the typical hustle and bustle down the hallway, school can be overwhelming. Learning to identify and appropriately express emotions in response to events is one of the many tasks of child development. As adults, we automatically employ emotion regulation techniques every day to keep ourselves grounded. As parents and educators, we strive to initiate conversations and help school-aged children develop the necessary skills to consciously regulate their emotions.

The Five Senses exercise is an easy and tangible way to guide children through the process of grounding themselves to the present moment. To do this, children are invited to bring their awareness to their senses in a calming and soothing way. Just a few minutes of mindfulness can slow breathing, lower heart rate, and stop the feeling of overwhelm in its tracks.

To begin, children can be encouraged to visualize:

  • Five things they can SEE (e.g., picture on the wall, chalkboard, my desk)
  • Four things they can HEAR (e.g., birds chirping, school bell)
  • Three things they can FEEL (e.g., pencil in hand, feet on the floor)
  • Two things they can SMELL (e.g., food from the cafeteria, fresh cut grass), and
  • One thing they can TASTE (e.g., toothpaste, gum, breakfast)

The goal is to calm the mind by using our five senses to focus on the environment, instead of our racing or distressing thoughts.

When you are first beginning to teach this exercise, you might ask children upon completion how they feel now in comparison to a few moments ago, what they feel in their body, and what has changed–once again, challenging them to be connected to their bodies. It is recommended that children are taught and given opportunities to practice this skill in safe, neutral settings, so that it becomes routine and habitual whenever necessary to employ the skill.

The Five Senses exercise is a go-to skill when working with school-aged children for several reasons. First, it can be practiced anytime and anywhere…from the bus to the lunch line. Second, this is a skill that, once mastered, is entirely private. Their thoughts are not exposed, and no one knows that they are actively engaging in a coping strategy or that they were even experiencing emotional turmoil (dysregulation) in the first place. Third, as you teach this to the children around you, you also gain additional ability to regulate your own emotions.

There are many additional practices that can help children (and adults) develop emotional regulation skills. If children still seem to struggle in this area even after trying these exercises at home, consult with a healthcare provider for further evaluation.

The information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider with any questions regarding any possible health or medical condition.

Gabrielle Rozio, Psy.D. is completing her postdoctoral residency in the Clinical Psychology clinic at the Midwestern University Therapy Institute in Glendale, Arizona. The Therapy Institute utilizes the latest in treatment technology and research to evaluate and help children and adults develop their resilience, at affordable prices. Call 623-537-6000 to schedule an appointment.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of MASK magazine

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