Your Body is Your GPS
The human body acts as a very clever GPS warning system. But rather than telling you about an impending traffic jam or indicating that there is a speed camera ahead, it tells you when you are in danger. The problem is, this body GPS works a little well. At the first sign of conflict, the brain sends hormones like cortisol and adrenaline into the blood stream with an accuracy and readiness that makes thinking logically and rationally an extremely difficult task.
UNDERSTANDING THE BRAIN
The brain can be divided into three different subtypes: the survival brain (reptilian brain), the thinking brain (neocortex) and the emotional brain (the limbic system). The limbic system includes the hypothalamus, the amygdala and the hippocampus. These parts of the brain are fed information through the five senses- in particular, the senses of sight, hearing and touch, and releases chemicals that are responsible for preparing the body for fight or flight.
WHAT THIS LOOKS LIKE IN THE BODY
Imagine what this must be like for children. They’re breathing faster, their heart is racing, their palms are sweaty and their muscles are all tensed up, and they don’t understand why. They may feel nauseous or have butterflies in their stomach, their muscles receive a flood of energy that makes them feel like hitting, kicking, punching or throwing, and their self-talk might sound something like “She’s not going to get away with that!”
or “Nobody likes me!” They may have difficulty identifying their feelings and expressing themselves verbally. A child in this state is a potential threat not just to others but also to themselves.
CHRONIC STRESS ON THE BODY
Research has proven that repeated exposure to stress, such as that experienced during an unresolved conflict, can stop the brain from learning. It inhibits the creation of neural pathways and can lead to anxiety and depression. Over time this can lead to serious chronic illnesses. So a child, in a distressed state with no tools to help their bodies to calm down, is not only likely to lash out and hurt others, but is simultaneously damaging themselves.
CALMING THE BODY
The opportunity for problem-solving, conflict resolution and helpful conversation can only come when the child is calm. Consciously making physical changes can help calm down the body. Some examples include:
- Slow breathing: Breathing during conflict or bullying can become short and shallow. This stops the flow of oxygen that is necessary to reason well and impacts on their tone of voice. Teach children to breathe in through their noses, hold it for five seconds, and then breathe out slowly through their mouth. They should not make eye contact with anyone during this process and they should try to take slow breaths from their diaphragm rather than their chest. Continue this slow breathing for two minutes.
- Relax muscles: Show children how to tense their bodies up like a robot. Hold this tension everywhere below the shoulders for about five seconds and then relax like a jellyfish. Let their bodies flop until you instruct “robot” or “jellyfish”. For maximum fun, practise it as a game and play it with a group of children.
TIPS FOR PARENTS
- BED TIME: At bed time, practise slow breathing or muscle relaxation with your child.
- SIBLING CONFLICT: Encourage your child to practise calming the body when they have conflict with their siblings. Don’t tell them to ‘Calm down!’, no one likes to be told to calm down. Rather, show them, model it and for your children, if it is appropriate, hug them and breathe together until they are calmer. Remember your actions speaker louder than your words.
TIPS FOR TEACHERS
- RETURNING TO THE CLASSROOM: When the class comes in after lunch, use this time to practise calming down skills.
- SHARING EXAMPLES: Have the children share stories of when they had an issue and calmed down their bodies at home or at school. Keep a list of ideas and discuss the effectiveness of each.
Jocelyne is an author, speaker, researcher, consultant and parent of three. Jocelyne has been a teacher for 30 years and specialised as a Social and Emotional consultant for the past 20 years supporting over 90 schools in conflict and bullying programs. Jocelyne is a crusader, on a crusade to create safer and friendlier schools and communities full of people
who have confidence in their value and who enjoy healthy relationships. Jocelyne is the founder of EMPOWERING Life Skills and the creator of the BRIDGE BUILDERS® Program which equips schools with a universal understanding, skills and language to deal with everyday conflict and bullying. She is the author of EMPOWERED for Life – Equipping children to deal with everyday conflict and bullying.
In 2018 Jocelyne has released the BRIDGE BUILDERS® Online Program to equip adults with the knowledge and resources to empower children for life. It has over 100 teaching videos, games, clickable interactives, quizzes and activities to link with the National Curriculum and make learning fun, relevant and lasting.
You can find out more about her and her programs at www.EmpoweringLifeSkills.com.au