It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Helping a Troubled Child Self-soothe (Part Two)

The information in the serial posting comes from psychologist Dr. James Sutton’s current work-in-progress, The Changing Behavior Book: a fresh approach to the difficult child. One of the chapters is on teaching troubled youngsters the skills of soothing themselves in times of difficulty. To read Dr. Sutton’s comments on this new book (which will also be available in e-book format), including a description of its 20 chapters, click here


Helping a Troubled Child Self-soothe (Part Two)

Breathing on the Square

When individuals are under stress, their breathing is affected because they are emotionally preparing to run or fight. They are gasping and panting, not breathing. Consequently, much needed oxygen doesn’t get to the brain as it should. It’s a rapid recipe for things getting worse, not better.

Here’s an activity that was shared by a teacher in Tennessee. She used it with her students just before they were to take an important test. She instructed her class to do the following in four-second intervals.

1. Breathe in slowly

2. Hold that breath

3. Breathe out slowly

4. Pause before starting over

The whole “square” takes 16 seconds. If a youngster does this correctly, the gasping and panting have to stop. Systematic breathing brings in oxygen and a sense of order and control … all positive benefits.

It’s not difficult to create a model of a square with four segments to each side as a visual. It can be drawn on a piece of paper or it can be drawn on the floor. Another idea would be to use something like square stepping stones and have the youngsters actually move through the square as they preform the breathing.

Consider an additional benefit. This breathing intervention provides a sense of focus. For 16 seconds the youngster’s mind and focus (hopefully) is on completing the square. This can greatly reduce impulsive behavior. If the child breathes the square a dozen times without stopping, she’s gone more than three minutes on the soothing she’s provided for herself. More importantly, consider the possibilities of what all didn’t hapen while she was breathing the square.

What value can you put on disasters that DON’T happen?

The next step would be to encourage youngsters to do this on their own, to use Breathing on the Square as a resource they can call on to soothe themselves. Give it to them as an assignment, to try it and report back to you later.

Okay, a youngster walking four-second turns in a mall or supermarket might be a tad conspicious. It’s really just as easy to walk and breathe the square in a straight line. The strategy and the benefits are the same.

(Watch for Part Three: A Soothing “Appointment”) 


James D. Sutton, Psychologist  


August 4, 2008 - Posted by | adversity, Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Inspirational, Parents, Self-esteem | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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