Have you ever said “just calm down!” to a child experiencing a meltdown or even an extremely angry and agitated adult? There was most likely not a positive response. Managing big emotions can be difficult for both the person experiencing them and for the one trying to assist. Someone who feels out of control of their emotions and reactions can struggle to “calm down” as they are unaware of what a calm and regulated state feels like. They may therefore struggle to respond to new environments with pleasure, be curious and explore as well as show an active interest in their current environment.
Sensory modulation is the ability to filter sensations and attend to those that are relevant, maintain an optimal level of arousal and being able to sustain attention to the task at hand (Bundy, Lane, & Murray, 2002). One can either display an under-responsiveness or over-responsiveness to various inputs. Mature sensory modulation contributes to one’s ability to maintain a calm-alert state, optimal for learning.
All functions must be in harmony with each other in order to produce an ideal outcome. A well “modulated” child, with neural harmony will therefore be able to adapt appropriately to environmental changes and maintain optimal attention and arousal. They will be able to block out irrelevant information while attending to relevant stimulation and thereby respond in a manner that is appropriate and in direct proportion to the input.
Research shows us that movement and breath help to alleviate stress and anxiety. Our bodies are designed to move, however the modernised world is mostly sedentary. We almost have to relearn how to use movement to lead happy and healthy lives. Our ability to process emotions is often influenced by how we process sensory inputs and can impact the basis of how one views, feels and experiences their emotions. Using sensory tools such as movement such as children’s yoga poses; using Social Stories to model the correct behaviours, or using games such as ‘Simon Says’ and ‘Interpreting Emotions Through Charades’ are examples of learning how to experience and deal with big emotions.
Developing a ‘Calm Down Plan’ with your child may also be beneficial so that they have a plan to work through when they feel upset or out of control. Such a plan may include steps as shown below:
- Remind myself that it is never okay to hurt others
- Take three deep breaths or slowly count to ten
- Use my words to say how I feel and what I wish would happen
- Ask for help to solve the problem
- Take the time I need to calm down
Observe your children and yourself and begin to see which sensory inputs calm you down or over-whelm you. They will often be different for different people and this is what makes us unique as well as what adds to the parenting challenge. We can do this.
Each discipline will be sharing information and titbits with you in future publications and we hope you enjoy them! Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any queries regarding the content.
Nadia, Robyn, Eleanor, Ashley, Jennifer, Maranel and
The Hope Studio Therapy Team