Remember how stressed you were in school? All of the homework, tests and quizzes, projects, plus making sure that you had time for your friends, or having enough free time to enjoy your hobbies?
Today, kids are even more stressed in school than when we were students. There are many reasons for that — but, one big reason is that students don’t spend time practicing self-care and taking time to recharge.
Why should we teach kids how to recharge and practice self-care?
As a teacher, I understand — we already have so much to teach in terms of subject matter; why should we teach kids additional information that doesn’t relate to the subject matter?
Teaching kids these skills are important for keeping students less stressed. After all, less stressed kids will lead to more focused kids, which leads to them paying more attention, which leads to them retaining more information from the class.
It is important to note that unless adults like guidance counselors or teachers take time to explicitly teach kids how to recharge and practice self-care, they likely will not know what to do. It may take a lot of classroom time that could be spent on curriculum or skills, but it is well worth it to make sure that students know how to deal with stress.
Read on to find out different methods to teach kids how to recharge and practice self-care.
1. Take brain breaks
When I first taught third grade, teachers were told to have their students take brain breaks. A brain break is a break that students take to give them some time for mental rest. After brain breaks, I have found that students get refreshed!
Typically, students are sitting in a classroom for most of the day. Providing brain breaks allows students to get up and move. Be aware — these are generally pre-planned and last anywhere from 2 – 5 minutes, depending on the specific brain break being utilized.
In my 8th grade classroom, I try to provide a brain break once every week. The options I give to students are to walk around the room, stretch, or do sit ups, push ups or jumping jacks. Many students choose not to do brain breaks, but those who do them enjoy them, as it gets their blood pumping and they enjoy moving around. This is especially true when students are doing something “boring,” such as writing an essay for an entire period.
2. Calm down in the moment
This is a tip that even adults can use! When a child is over-emotional, sometimes all he or she can think about is calming down, but has no way of doing so. Teaching explicit strategies to calm down can work wonders.
For example, taking deep breaths and counting from 10 to 0 can help children feel calmer. Sometimes, repeating a mantra such as “I can do this!” or “I am loved and I am kind,” will remind a student of what is really important. Another way for a child to calm down in the moment is to think of their happy place and imagine life there.
The strategy you use depends on the age of your child. For example, in my 8th grade class, I have had frustrated students ask to walk around the hall for a few minutes to return in a much calmer mood. However, I would not trust one of my former third grade students to do this. I have shown my third graders relaxation videos, which my 8th grade students would not take seriously.
By calming down in the moment, a child realizes that they do actually have control over a situation that may be uncontrollable to them. They may not be able to plan for certain situations, but by using strategies like these, they can react in a positive way.
3. List accomplishments
When I taught 6th grade English in New Jersey, a typically happy child came into my class with a huge frown on her face. After a few minutes of this unordinary behavior, I pulled her aside and asked her what was wrong. Her big brother had told her that morning that she would not go anywhere, was worthless, and other unkind words.
I had told her that those things were not true. She scoffed and muttered, “Yeah, right,” under her breath as I began to tell her a list of amazing things she had done. For example, she was the only sixth grade student in the school play that had a leading role. She was also one of the only students who scored a 100 on the science teacher’s test last week.
As I was telling her all of this, her frown slowly morphed into a smile. Although she was still upset, she seemed to be able to take on the day. I spoke to her in the hall later before dismissal, and she forgot all about how upset she was.
Whenever a child is feeling frustrated, angry, or stressed, those feelings are valid. Sometimes, children may be inconsolable. However, one strategy to make them feel better is to make a list. Perhaps there can be different lists, depending on your child — for example, a list of things that they have accomplished, a list of things to do to make the child feel better, or a list of things that can prevent the issue from occuring in the future.
4. Do something fun
Every year that I have taught, there has always been a time when students are just “over it.” Collectively, kids decide that they no longer want to do schoolwork, and their motivation to do anything academic plummets.
Sometimes, when this occurs, I give students a game to play. Usually, this is some sort of review game like Kahoot, Quizizz, or Blooket. However, occasionally I will make these games ungraded, so students can focus on having fun, rather than being the strongest player.
Sometimes, especially after a big project or essay, I tell kids to spend time on the computer doing whatever they want that is appropriate for school. Students have used this time to play games, complete work for other classes, take a nap, or take a quiz about themselves.
Many teachers forget that students are not machines — they are children. It is often hard for children to find the motivation to do something that they consider boring. By doing something that the children deem to be fun, teachers allow their children to be children… while occasionally learning in the process.
5. Have kids do something artsy
Sometimes, regardless of their age, a kid needs to be a kid. Why not add some art, music, or acting to the task they are doing? They will learn something while enjoying it!
As one example, when I taught 7th grade English, I completed a lesson on using figurative language in writing a week before Halloween. For the next few days in class, students had to use their senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and sound to describe foods like pickle ice cream sundaes, and fried spiders with ranch dressing! After writing paragraph descriptions, they then got a chance to color these disgusting treats! At the end of the year, many students described this as their favorite activity.
When I taught 6th grade English in a different school, we were tasked with reading “The Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carrol. If you are unfamiliar, this is a nonsense poem that still tells a story, despite being made up of fictional language. But, after reading it, one student wanted to act out the interpretation that the class made… and he loved it! When I suggested doing the same for my other classes that day, I had many volunteers.
Oftentimes, teachers think about the most efficient or effective ways that their students can learn. But, adding art to the lesson helps students out, allows them to destress, and even is cross-curricular with other subjects.
Teaching kids recharging and self-care strategies may even be more important than teaching curriculum guides. Kids may not remember the general in a specific war, but they will remember the self-care and recharging strategies when they are stressed. These skills will follow students throughout their entire life.
The strategies listed here are a guide — there are plenty of additional strategies for teaching kids how to recharge and practice self-care. As always, every child is different, so some kids may not respond to doing something artsy, for example. Whether you are a teacher, parent, guidance counselor, or someone else who has children in their life, these skills are vital to their development.
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