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Four Tools to Calm, Connect, Activate, and Affirm

April 3, 2024

It’s a sunny Tuesday morning as I walk into a first-grade classroom. The students are sitting in a circle on a carpet covered with a multitude of bright color patterns. I lower myself into a chair and my knees come close to my chest. Over my shoulder is my quilted bag that holds Sally and Sam (my puppets) and Peaceful Panda. Out of my magical bag comes a chime. I hit the chime and a high tone rings throughout the classroom. The students sit up straight and put their hands on their hearts and the other on their bellies. Together we close our eyes and take in a deep breath, then slowly let it out. We repeat this together two more times The teacher sits in the circle with us, following along with her hand on her heart. Instantly I feel the energy shift, the noise in the room is the breathing of the students. Eyes come open and we are ready for our sharing question of the morning. 

I have been working in the same school district for over five years providing embedded professional learning for elementary teachers by leading a social and emotional learning lesson for the class twice a month. Each lesson has a set routine: Mindfulness activity, connection question, skills lesson, and closing. Routine is so important in having a classroom that feels calm and connected. 

What is a regulated nervous system?

When your nervous system is regulated and you encounter stress, it has the ability to move flexibly between different states of arousal in response to the stressors. You can adapt so that you are not overwhelmed. Children and adolescents have a hard time navigating the different states on their own and often need another regulated person or animal to support them in regulation; this is called co-regulation.

Today I will be sharing with you four categories of tools that I practice with students to help them regulate their nervous systems. These same tools can be used with young children all the way up to adults.

Calming Tool: these practices help to slow down. They slow down the breathing, and lower heart rate and blood pressure to bring in a sense of inner calm or peace to soothe and settle the body.

Examples: Singing or humming, focused breathing, gum chewing, smiling.

Connecting Tools: these practices build a connection with self and others contributing to relational safety.

Examples: Noticing using the 5 senses, greetings, mindful mirroring.

Activating Tools: these practices are “pick me ups” that involve movement to energize and regulate.

Examples: Shake down, angel stretches, yoga poses.

Affirming Tools: these practices train your brain to see the positives in life.

Example: Positive self-talk, gratitude, strengths.

Each of these practices can be spread throughout the day and built into a routine. In the classroom or childcare setting, pick a category and practice it daily during a transition in the schedule. If you are a social worker meeting with children or youth, select tools to build into your meeting routine. As a leader or director, select a tool to start a staff meeting or department meeting. Each of these tool categories can built into the routine of your day and set you in the direction of becoming a regulated adult.

I have created a surprise handout with directions for connecting, calming, activating, and affirming tools that you can use! Print them off on card stock and cut the cards apart to use in your daily practice or with children, clients, and staff. Click HERE to download.