Practice the “Body Check Five” to Manage Back-to-School Fears
If you are a parent, educator, or a child old enough to anticipate the coming school year, there’s no doubt you are holding considerable tension. Speaking with educational leaders across the state of Ohio this past week, one message was consistent and crystal clear: we don’t know what the start of school will look and feel like. In fact, many of us feel stranded as schools plan to return in person yet COVID cases continue to rise, children are increasingly highlighted in the news for getting and spreading COVID and teachers seem to be the highest risk next target. Many parents are trying to figure out what to do with children who are home 24/7 while they attempt to keep their jobs, keep their business afloat or search for a new job after being furloughed or fired. Yes, families are holding tension. And it seems our landscape changes daily with new mandates, new research coming to light, differing opinions within families and the stuff of life taking on a whole new level of drama because of our already-fragile stress levels.
Our children are experiencing their own sadness from social isolation, fears of risk and the unknowns of the school year, and in addition, emotional contagion as they feel the sensations of the adults and their tension in the household. And we can easily predict that they’ll be plenty of stress and emotional contagion in a classroom between teachers and among students if they return in person. So how can we help our children manage all of these big feelings? And is there some easy practice they can take to school with them, more important than any school supplies, to deal with sudden bouts of anxiety?
Try out the Body Check Five for yourself and teach it to your child to help them prepare for whatever they face with the start of school. This strategy can be utilized by parents in preparation or by teachers to help students self-manage and focus. Here’s how you teach it:
- Stop. Yes, the very first step in moving toward self-regulation is recognizing that you are anxious or fearful and stopping your actions or reactions which are likely to be impulsive. It helps to say aloud, “stop.”
- Notice. Now in your pause state, notice what your heart is doing. Is it beating fast? How’s your temperature? Are you warm or cold? Simply, notice any sensations in your body. Practice telling a confidante (each other). “My body feels shaky all over.”
- Name. Practice asserting your feelings. “I feel scared. I’m really uncomfortable.” For a small feeling like a little tension, naming and seeking understanding from another can be enough to help an adult or child calm down. But if it’s a big feeling like fear, then more is needed. Take it this next step.
- Conduct the Body Check Five. Go through all five senses and describe what you notice. What do you see right now around you? What do you hear? What can you smell? What do you taste? What can you immediately feel through touch? Have a preschooler or kindergartner who has not learned about their five senses yet? Use a face and point to each sense, naming it. Here’s a video for preschoolers and kindergartners on the senses.
- Notice. Now, ask: how do you feel?Does your body feel better? Do you feel safer? This survey of your body and detailing of what you can experience with your five senses has two powerful outcomes. First, it helps a child or adult become present to their environment and focus. Second, it helps a child or adult realize that they are safe and under no serious threat in that moment.
The tension of social distancing, wearing masks with the very real threat of a pandemic can create a sense of a lack of safety all of the time. Children and adults can become hyper-vigilant about their surroundings trying to keep safe while they become more impulse-driven and edgy. We remain in our fight, flight or freeze brain states with little access to many other brain resources required for learning including language, problem-solving and creativity. This practice can help any individual realize that the sense of impending doom they feel is only perceived not real in that moment. Yes, proper safety precautions are essential. But helping our child learn how to self-soothe and dispel their sense of threat can help them cultivate new relationships this school year and enter into the flow of learning.
Try out the Body Check Five on yourself. Then teach and practice with your child. This is an unprecedented and highly complex back to school season. We have a unique opportunity to build resilience by offering our children ways in which they can manage themselves and bring their own sense of safety to school but it will take our own focus and intention to do so.
May this school year bring the gift of honing social and emotional skills along with mental and physical health and safety for you and your family.