What is grounding?
Grounding is a term that we readily associate with electrical engineering; electricians connect wires to the earth to keep electricity from running wildly through our systems. Likewise, as humans we need to ground our minds to our bodies and to the earth to be sure that energy does not overwhelm us. No wonder, grounding exercises have been shown to limit the impact of distressing emotions so that we can maintain control of our actions.
Aside from the fact that most students have frontal lobes that are still growing – making it difficult to control their emotions – when students with trauma histories experience flashbacks and panic that represents a disconnect of the mind from the body. Likewise, for students with sensory processing disorders including autism and ADHD, maintaining that grounded connection is challenging as input can overwhelm their processing centers. Thankfully, we can teach our students simple techniques to ground themselves and pair those with cues that remind them when to use the tools in the classroom. Grounded brains are brains that are ready to learn, and students can incorporate grounding exercises quietly into their day with or without formal accommodations.
Grounding Exercises to Try
Broadly, we can break grounding exercises into three categories: physical, mental and soothing techniques. The best exercises combine elements all of all three categories:
5, 4, 3, 2, 1
This technique is perhaps best for bigger kids who can keep track of each of the steps. I like it because it sneaks in some self-affirmation at the end! Name 5 things you can see in the room -Name 4 things you can feel (tactile; e.g. “chair on my back” or “feet on floor”) -Name 3 things you can hear right now -Name 2 things you can smell right now -Name 1 good thing about yourself.
You might create a soothing memory around identifying an object your child can hold, look at, listen to, and/or smell. This could be a soft object such as a pillow or stuffed animal, a smooth stone you found on the beach, a picture of a beautiful scene or loved one, and/or any other object that represents safety or comfort.
Calm Down Jars
The internet is filled with ideas about how to make your own calm down jar. If you aren’t a diy-er, snow globes, liquid motion and sand timers all work well too! Encourage your child to watch the glitter settle and imagine their brain, belly and muscles settling too.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Work through our body, squeezing a muscle tight and then letting it go. Feel the stress leave with each muscle you relax. For kids at a desk, they can do a few rounds of squeezing their whole upper body in tight while clenching their fists and then releasing all at once.
What I’ve shared above are some of my students’ favorite grounding exercises, but I want to emphasize that each of us needs to personalize these for our own experience in the world. If you’d like help identifying a grounding exercise that your child can bring with them to the classroom, please reach out.