“In an age of constant movement, nothing is as urgent as sitting still.” Pico Iyer
A second grader running relentlessly on the grassy field suddenly stops, lies on her back, places one hand over her heart and one on her tummy, closes her eyes, and breathes slowly. “Ms. Karima taught us how to stop and calm ourselves.” Second grade teacher Karima Hastings is just one of the White Pony and Meher School teachers who help students learn about the importance of taking short breaks to breathe and self-calm.
Pausing – the act of stopping to notice what’s happening around them and inside their bodies – is one of the most important skills children can learn. Creating the habit of pausing can help children handle many situations, especially social interactions, with more self-regulation and intention. Taking deep breaths actually slows the heart rate and signals muscles to relax.
It can be challenging to help children who are very active or very young to stop and reorient when they are fighting, over-tired, or over-stimulated. Children will often resist pausing because it feels uncomfortable and foreign to them.
The key is to start small but do it consistently. Start with pauses that last a few seconds. Stay with a dysregulated child so that your energy helps them to unwind and feel safe in their bodies. Create areas for children to curl up and rest. As children develop a routine of stopping to check in with themselves, they can become the guardians of their own nervous systems.
Children who are very active and impulsive often relate well to having a visual image of the next activity or a timer to signal how long they need to spend resting.
The Nurtured Heart Approach involves the use of a brief reset or pause, implemented without lecturing and anger, to get children back on track and feeling good about themselves. The reset can be a few seconds or minutes. The focus is on the positive abilities to listen and change directions. “Look how quickly you listened and cleaned up your things.”
Parents and teachers are important role models when it comes to taking breaks and nurturing themselves in the midst of intense activity. It’s helpful for to children to witness adults saying things like “I have to calm myself for a few minutes.” “I need to take time to think before I make a decision.” “My body needs to rest before I start something else.” “Let’s sit down and think about this together.”
Our whole culture can benefit from learning to pause and refresh in the midst of so much change and activity.