Many people all over the world, both adults and children, struggle with regulating difficult emotions such as sadness, anger, disappointment, inadequacy, and fear. When faced with these emotions many people engage in one or more of the following behaviors:
- yelling/screaming/using angry words towards others
- neglecting one’s own care and needs
- trying to harm oneself or others (physically, emotionally, etc.)
- destroying property, materials, etc.
- shutting down/not talking/withdrawing from social situations
- refusing to participate in a task or activity
- leaving a required task or activity without permission
- neglecting responsibilities
- using substances to cope with emotions
- engaging in risky behaviors to distract from difficult emotions
- making impulsive decisions in an attempt to feel better immediately
- having trouble making healthy decisions (it can be difficult to think clearly while struggling with painful emotions)
As many of us know, the behaviors listed above are not effective ways to regulate our emotions and don’t lead to positive changes in our general mood or outlook over time.
Mindfulness helps us learn meaningful and effective ways to cope with our emotions.
Current research indicates that mindfulness activities, which encourage us to use our thoughts and senses to be attentive and focused in the present moment, can lead to many positive changes in the way one experiences and reacts to painful emotions.
With mindfulness as a part of an individual’s daily routine, they can benefit in a variety of ways leading to improved confidence, decision making, understanding of one’s emotions, self-control, and emotional regulation.
13 Mindfulness Activities to Improve Emotional Regulation in Children (and adults)
1. Go outside and notice what you see, hear, smell, and feel.
Do you see a tree, hear a car engine, smell a flower, or feel the ground on your feet?
Is there something you are grateful for outside? The sun, a flower, your front porch, a toy, windchimes? What is it?
What if you don’t have a chance to get outside? If you cannot get outside, you can practice this same technique in any area of your house. You can open a window to feel connected to nature as well.
or look for a favorite item or person to be thankful for.
2. Take deep breaths and use your senses to focus on how it feels.
Step 1: Fill your belly up with air like a balloon. Use your senses to feel the air going in and filling up your belly.
Step 2: When your belly is full, count to two.
Step 3: Use your senses to feel and hear the air as you blow it out. You can do this a few times in a row.
Bubbles or flowers (or similar items), are optional, and can help you stay focused on this activity.
If you get any thoughts you don’t like, focus on how your breathing feels when you fill your belly up like a balloon. Think about how your body feels when you count to two, and notice what it feels like to release the air.
3. Push into a wall, floor or other object that you cannot actually move.
You can push with your feet, hands, back, bottom, etc. Feel the tension build up for 30 to 60 seconds and release. Repeat as desired. This is a great activity for mental health and body strengthening.
4. Hang and stretch using pull-up bars and resistance bands.
Hold each move for 10 to 60 seconds. Notice how it feels to stretch and release. Remember to breathe! Stretching and hanging are great for mental health and body strengthening.
5. Listen to music that makes you feel motivated and happy.
Try to notice each lyric and note. Think about what you enjoy about the song in the moment. Notice how the song makes you feel. What is your mood?
6. Close your eyes and squeeze your hands together or squeeze an object like a stress ball.
While your eyes are closes and your hands are squeezing, slowly feel yourself breathe in and out. You can notice the sensations or breathing, squeezing, closing your eyes, etc.
You can also choose to think about your favorite dreams, activities, and interests that exist in the present moment (is it dancing, creating stories, building with Legos, becoming a firefighter, being a detective, riding a horse, rescuing animals, flying a plane)
Notice how your body feels when you think about the things you love or the things you want to do. Do you feel calm, motivated, excited? How do your chest and stomach feel?
When you are done with this activity, slowly release your hands and open your eyes. Notice how you feel.
7. Write down your goals (e.g., self-care, household chores, work, time with kids, etc.)
- 20 minutes of physical activity such as yoga, dance, walking (can break up into two to four segments of 5 to 10 minutes each)
- 10 minutes of reading about an area of interest
- 30 minutes spending time with family
- 30 minutes working on an essay due for English class
- 30 minutes on hobby (e.g., puzzles, guitar, writing, research, sport)
You Tube has so many short videos to get physical activity done in short segments and not feel overwhelmed.Yoga Video
8. Drink cold water and feel the sensation as it is going down.
Water is excellent for brain function, energy, alertness, skin, and organs.
9. Complete a hands-on project or physical activity that requires your senses, along with active concentration.
Hands-on and movement-based activities are excellent for confidence, skill building, sense of adequacy, and brain function. This might be a great time to practice your dance moves, or whatever other interests or dreams you have.
10. Take good care of yourself every day. Self-Care is very important!
Caring for ourselves helps with our confidence. It allows us to feel proud of our decisions, and it ensures a healthier present and future.
11. Say positive things to yourself.
Research shows that being kind to yourself with your thoughts and words increases confidence and belief in oneself.
- I am kind
- I am a good listener.
- I am a hard worker.
- I can set goals and achieve them.
- I can be organized.
- I can do things that are right for me, even if others might not like it.
- I am empathetic and take other people’s feelings into consideration.
- I can make good decisions.
- I trust myself.
- I take good care of myself.
- I am a good friend to people.
- I am here for my family.
- I am worth it.
- I am part of a bigger whole.
- I am here for a reason.
- I matter.
12. Allow yourself to accept, recognize, and feel your feelings.
Notice how your body feels when you are sad, angry, mad, disappointed, worried, etc. Do you feel tension in your chest, does your stomach bother you, do you feel your heart race, do you cry? It is okay and normal to feel these ways. Now we have to decide how to react and how to handle those feelings.
13. When you notice the signs of sadness, anger, fear, etc. be compassionate with yourself.
Be caring to yourself and be there for your feelings; just like we often are when we comfort others. You can say things to yourself like:
- “I will be okay.”
- “I will get through this.”
- “I am allowed to make mistakes.”
- “I am here for myself.”
- “I am allowed to feel this way.”
- “I care about myself.”
- “Things will get better from here.”
- “I can create happiness.”
- “I love myself.”
- “I am a good person”
Overall, doing mindfulness activities as part of your daily routine can help reduce stress and increase positive feelings.
You don’t need to wait until you feel bad to engage in mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness regularly will lead to overall positive effects on your mood, confidence, self-control, sense of adequacy, and emotional regulation. It will also increase your understanding of your body, the sensations you feel, and how you react and respond to problems, situations, and emotions.
If you do get into a spot where you are feeling sad, angry, scared, etc. you can pick a mindfulness activity such as one of the ones listed in this article to:
- elevate your mood
- bring you to a better emotional space
- calm down an elevated heart rate, fast breathing, or nervous tension
- remind you of your strengths, goals, and ambitions
- build your confidence, self-esteem, and belief in yourself
- motivate you to accomplish your daily goals
Have you tried any of these strategies or activities with your child or students (or on your own)? Let us know. We want to hear what has helped you. Maybe you have some activities to add! If you do, please comment and let me know. The comment thread can be a running list of mindfulness activities that others have found helpful.
Education and Behavior – Keeping parents, caregivers, educators, counselors, and therapists, on the same page with what the research says is most effective for children!
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Rachel Wise is a certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a Master’s Degree in Education. She is also the head author and CEO at educationandbehavior.com, a site for parents, caregivers, educators, counselors, and therapists to find effective, research-based strategies that work for children. Rachel has been working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs for over 20 years and has a passion for making a positive difference in the lives of children and the adults who support them. For Rachel’s top behavioral strategies all in one place, check out her book, Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children, a Guide for Parents and Teachers. If you want Rachel to write for your business, offer behavioral or academic consultation, or speak at your facility about research-based strategies that support children, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.