Finding Inner Peace: Calming Choice Boards

By Mia Girard, TLC Occupational Therapist and YogaKids instructor

Transitions are difficult for everyone, kids and adults alike. It's hard to transition to something new – a new schedule, new school, new job, new season, new whatever! While it can be exciting, it can also be a bit anxiety-producing and unnerving.  This is especially true for small children, who often don't know what to expect from a new experience, new face, or just a new activity sequenced in the day's normal events.

Calming choice post-it's to pick from in stressful situations.

Calming choice post-it's to pick from in stressful situations.

During my routine Monday morning yoga class, I was reminded that my favorite part is savasana. To me, this final pose is like a delicious dessert, something to savor at the end of a really yummy meal. I found myself lying there thinking about transitions and all that is new to my family and the kids that I work with, and wishing that I could recruit and share this fantastic, relaxed, connected and organized feeling whenever I so desire!  Savasana -- such a nourishing, sweet, soul-satisfying pose. It helps me feel as though I can take on anything that life dishes my way!

After class, I began to think about how I can accomplish this task using yoga like the YogaKids pledge reminds us: “anytime, anywhere to calm myself, energize myself, and make myself feel better.” I am reminded of my most difficult time of day: the after-work, pre-dinner time-frame when I am running low on patience, life gets briefly super-busy, and my sensory system is most sensitive and fragile.

Doesn’t it seem like everyone needs a bit of you right then? To help with homework, answer the phone, cook dinner, pick up something at the store, go through the mail, see who is at the door, answer a text message, etc.? Sometimes I feel as though if one more person needs my attention, I am either going to run for the hills or scream like a baby.

A calming-choice board in the Yogakids classroom.

A calming-choice board in the Yogakids classroom.

Not a very pretty picture, is it? Most of the time, I have enough wits about me to remember my strategies: take a break for a minute, spritz myself in a calming essential oil mist, do some alternate nostril-breathing, a forward-fold, a sun salutation... While I might not be able to enjoy savasana at this time, are there other yoga poses and tools that I can access to find the serenity within me? Ah, yes!  And these help me regroup and re-enter my world with a refreshed mind, an open heart, and a calmer sensory system.  

Not all children are able to do this. In fact, many are not. One of my favorite things about YogaKids is that it gives us the opportunity to teach children about the art of self-regulation, the ability to calm or energize to meet the demands of the environment at any moment. More and more often, children need strategies to learn how to calm themselves. How can I help my kids learn them?

One way is to more openly share when I am about to enter into a fight-or-flight response. This allows me to communicate with my family what I am trying to accomplish when I dive into a forward-fold! Another way is to create a choice board: a place for pictures or hand-written sticky notes of choices. In this case, calming choices that work for both myself and the others in my family.

I often use choice boards at work with the children and within classrooms as I find that the visual reminder can help more than a verbal cue to remember strategies. After all, when I am nearing a fight-or-flight moment, the last thing I want is for someone to suggest I calm down! With a visual reminder of options for calming choices, it empowers rather than recommends a choice. The key is making sure that the pictures or choices used on the board will work.

How do you know what will work? Put on your detective spectacles over the course of a day or so. See what your children do to calm themselves. Do they rock in a rocking chair, chew gum, take a bath, swing on the swing set, ask for a hug? From their choices, see what you can glean to enrich the sensory opportunities they are seeking and expand upon them.

A few calming yogakids pose choices

A few calming yogakids pose choices

For example, if they like rocking chairs, think of yoga poses that involve rocking, like Rocking Horse or Rock ‘n Roll.  If they self-regulate through the use of their mouths, consider deep breathing through Take 5, Breezing, or Sitali Breath. If they like the warmth and feel of being in a bath, try a 2-3 pound heated and scented rice pack as a strategy to calm.

Depending upon what you find that works, creating a calming choice board for your home (or your classes) can empower children to develop for themselves the art of self-regulation.