Relaxing Your Heart

What do we do when we have strong feelings? Check out this post about controlling our heartbeat in order to control our feelings.

By Momentous Institute | Jan 12, 2015
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Today's post comes from Amelia Baladez, Momentous Institute Early Childhood Educator.
An important part of my therapeutic work with young children is helping them understand that they have control over their feelings. This is a lesson that some kids don’t quite grasp naturally, especially when they come from homes where they don’t have a lot of control over most things in their lives. Children who understand that they can manage their feelings are better at self-regulation, which is a very important life skill.
We talk to the kids about strong feelings. These are the feelings we get when we’re really angry, or upset, or excited. These feelings can get in the way of making good choices. Sometimes when we have strong feelings, we have a hard time listening to our parents or to our teachers. When we are in the middle of a strong feeling, our heart starts beating faster.
Because kids learn best when they’re engaged in the lesson, I’ve developed a little activity around this topic. We start by having the children run in place. I use a stethoscope, but the same effect can be achieved by having the child put his hand over his heart. We talk about how fast the heart is beating during physical activities. Then I show them this picture I drew of their heart working out, which usually makes them laugh. (Seeing the picture helps them remember the idea; a lot of kids are very visual.)

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I tell them that the fast heartbeat is what our hearts sound/feel like when we have those strong feelings too. When you get angry because your brother broke your toy, your heart will start beating like the heart in the picture. The strong feeling will start taking over your decision making skills too. The strong feeling will want you to hit your brother because you feel so angry at him.
But then we tell them that there is a way that they can bring their heart down from this place, and then they’ll be better able to make good choices. We do something we call rocket breath. We put our palms together in front of our chest, and fill our bellies with air. Then we breathe out and raise our hands above our head, separate them and make a circular motion down to the side of our body, like a rocket launching. We will do this several times until I can tell that they’re feeling a little calmer. Then we listen to our hearts again with the stethoscope. Our hearts are now slower and more relaxed. I show them a picture I drew of the heart taking a break. He looks like he’s on vacation. We talk about how when we relax our heart, we also are relaxing our body and our mind. Now we can tell our brother that we are upset with him instead of hitting. Now we have a lot more control over those strong feelings.

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My goal with the little kids is to teach them strategies that they can understand that will help them when they face a difficult situation at home or school. This one is great because it helps them know that we shouldn’t let our big feelings make the decisions, and that we get to control how our heart, mind, and body respond to situations in the world.