Somatic therapy, an approach that allows you to release stored trauma and stress by strengthening your mind-body connection, isn’t just for adults. The good news is you can learn somatic therapy exercises for kids to build their emotional resilience and ability to manage difficult emotions. Through the use of breathing techniques and specialized movements, kids can learn to center themselves and cope with everyday stressors.
What Is Somatic Therapy?
Developed by Peter Levine, somatic therapy is a body-focused approach that connects thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations to release stored trauma in the body. Its profound impact makes it especially valuable for children who, while deeply attuned to their surroundings, may lack the linguistic or cognitive tools to comprehend how the external world shapes their emotional experiences. That’s where somatic therapy can bridge that gap and teach them how to regulate their emotions, calm their nervous system, reduce stress, and aid their overall well-being.
5 Ways Somatic Therapy Can Help Kids
Like many other mind-body practices like yoga, mindfulness, and meditation, somatic therapy provides several benefits for children:
- Emotional regulation. Our little ones experience a constant wave of emotions. Sometimes, it can be challenging to know how to support them. But somatic exercises help your children reconnect to their body, breathe, and find their center to understand their triggers and cope.
- Increased self-esteem. Empowering children with coping mechanisms instills a sense of self-assurance and resilience because they learn how to regulate their emotions and ground themselves when overwhelmed or upset.
- Self-expression. It’s not always easy for us adults to label and verbalize what we’re experiencing. Imagine how challenging it is for children growing up and trying to understand this world. Yet somatic exercises provide a platform to manage their mental health, navigate difficult experiences, listen to their body’s signals, and express their internal experiences.
- Reduces stress and anxiety. Learning stress reduction at a young age reduces anxiety and the likelihood of far-reaching consequences that could impact their quality of life in adulthood.
- Stronger interpersonal relationships. Knowing how to regulate their emotions and manage stress will give them the foundation to create and maintain strong and healthy relationships.
7 Somatic Therapy Exercises For Kids
1. Breath awareness
The key to success in teaching mind-body connection tools involves imagination. You want to make it fun so they can truly experience the benefits. Thankfully, breathing techniques for anxiety are two-fold. There are many ways to activate play while teaching kids how to regulate their emotions and increase their mind-body awareness.
- Deep belly breathing. Place one hand on their chest and the other on their belly. Teach them they’re blowing in and out like a balloon as they inhale slowly through the nose, expanding the belly, and exhaling through the mouth, deflating their belly.
- Flower breath. Tell them to imagine smelling the sweet scent of a flower: breathe the scent in through their nose and release its colors through their mouth.
- Hissing breath. While seated, guide them to inhale deeply through their nose, and upon exhaling, encourage a slow, hissing sound. Make it a game by seeing how long they can extend their exhale.
2. Mindful walking
Either indoors or outdoors (nature boosts an added benefit), guide your children to walk mindfully. It will be challenging at first because it even feels a little funny for adults to explore. But here are a few tips to start with;
- The first step of mindful walking involves standing still. One way to grab your child’s attention is to have them visualize they are standing like a mountain. You can use their imagination to guide what a mountain looks like and how it roots firmly into the earth.
- Then, practice breathing in and out like a balloon to center themselves.
- Next, while observing their surroundings, encourage them to slowly put one foot forward in front of the other by demonstrating yourself. You can ask, “How does that feel?” and “What do you feel in your body as you walk slowly?”
- As they take each step, encourage them to notice how their foot lifts through the air and makes contact with the ground. You can use the imagery of space and how walking on the moon would be like – slow and aware of gravity.
This activity promotes self-awareness, sensory integration, and coordination. Practice it while going about your day or add to a mindful morning routine for kids.
3. Animal poses
What’s more engaging and fun than pretending to be an animal? Asking your children to imitate animals like frogs, birds, bears, or anything their mind can create will certainly increase their energy, but it will also encourage bodily expression and release physical tension. As they squirm like a snake or sway their arms like a monkey, they’ll learn how to connect to their body while expressing themselves.
4. Emotion charades
One of the best somatic therapy exercises for kids is teaching them how to recognize their emotions and resulting bodily sensations. For example, discover how to teach your children emotions and encourage them to demonstrate how they feel using their body. Maybe if they feel angry, they can stomp around the floor, throw their hands in the air, or discover where they feel the anger, perhaps in their chest or shoulders. Or if they’re happy, they might smile and jump up and down to express joy. This activity helps them act out different emotions while exploring where they feel their emotions within their body.
5. Artistic expression
Through art forms such as painting, sculpting, drawing, writing, or building, children can externalize and process internalized feelings that are challenging to express. This allows them to develop self-regulation, resilience, self-awareness, and mindfulness, making it one of the best impulse strategies for kids. So, set up an art space on the floor and give them the creative freedom to move, explore, self-express, and release any pent-up energy or stress.
6. Sensory activities
How much fun did you have playing with playdough as a child? Even the act of simply holding it in your hands can provide instant stress relief. Well, playdough is one of several sensory activities that further offer somatic therapy benefits. For example, it stimulates connections in the brain, releases anxiety, and teaches children how to slow down, connect to their body, and become aware of what their senses tell them. Beyond playdough, check out these other sensory activities for kids.
7. Body scan
As part of a mindful evening routine for kids, guide your little ones on a body scan meditation to release stress, calm their nervous system, and teach them how to locate stress or pain in their body. Here’s how to practice it step-by-step:
- Encourage your child to sit or lie down, whatever feels most relaxing.
- Start with a few deep breaths and ask them to notice the sensation of breathing in and out.
- Explain the body scan as a way to check in with different body parts. You can compare it to an astronaut or adventurer exploring a new planet or land.
- Begin with the lower body and guide them to focus on their toes. Wiggle them a little and then encourage stillness. Ask how they feel.
- While gradually moving up, pay attention to each body part – feet, ankles, legs, etc.
- For each part, ask them to notice any sensations. For example, how do their hands feel? Warm or cool? Can they feel their heartbeat?
- You can also introduce a bit of imagination. For example, use visualizations like imagining their breath as colors filling up each body part.
- Lastly, conclude the body scan by slowly bringing awareness back to the breath. Wiggle fingers and toes, and when they’re ready, open their eyes.
- Allow a moment for them to share their experience if they want and explain that it’s a tool they can use whenever they want to feel calm.
Practicing somatic therapy activities for kids early on sets the foundation for a healthier, more mindful approach to emotional well-being throughout their lives. They will know how to release stress, connect to their body, process their emotions, and more thanks to these imaginative and fun tools.
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