I stood there swaying my hips and rocking. His eyes began to slowly close like a pull-down curtain and I thought, This is it. He is finally going to sleep!
I am unsure if the wind blew wrong or my thoughts were too loud or if my child’s will to stay awake is just that strong, but, pop!, his eyes sprung open. Back to square one, (sigh).
Out of nowhere, I noticed this sensation strong within me. Omg. I had to pee. I had been so deep in thought about caring for my overly tired tot that I must have overlooked all the small signs from my body. I was doing “the dance” and the window to “make it” was small.
I had two choices: 1) Put my child down and take a bathroom break, which meant more tears, more time, and more patience that I was already running thin on, or 2) Pee my pants. The decision may sound easy but I really had to weigh my options.
I was gone a total of 125 seconds (yea, I counted). But coming back, I felt a bit more at ease, not only my bladder, but my overall demeanor. And as I started the sleep process over again and my son finally drifted off, I giggled a bit thinking about this month’s theme: self-care and sensory body breaks. One moment just outlined my entire article.
The Self-Care Shift
Over the years, my definition of self-care has changed. I used to consider self-care as a spa day or girl’s night out (and sometimes I still do). Now, I also consider it peeing when I have to pee. There’s such heavy societal pressure to do self-care right, you know? Every magazine I pick up or blog I read tells me how to do it, and as an exhausted parent, I often find myself adding it to the list of things I feel I am doing wrong.
But not anymore. Now, I see more clearly that self-care is really a mindfulness practice … intimate, internal, and complex. And this is because our mental health is such. Only we know our needs, and only we can meet them.
I call it empowerment self-care … when we can be with the current moment with joy and ease, noticing how we feel and asking ourselves, “What is it that I want and need in the here and now, and how do I make that happen?”
It may be as small as putting my child down to pee or taking a few small breaths to center before coming in with empathy for my melting toddler. Or maybe it’s something else like staying in and nursing when I want to be close to my child or doing that yoga class when I need a break.
Self-Care And The Sensory Body
Self-care is not a doing but a being, and before that being comes a feeling. This is how self-care meshes with our sensory body.
We all have a sensory body and, like little antennas, it draws in input and informs us of ourselves and the world around us. For some of us, that sensory body is highly alert and our threshold for stimuli is relatively small before it overwhelms our nervous system. For others, our sensory body requires more input to awaken our system, leaving us seeking certain stimuli to help balance and regulate. We all fall somewhere on the spectrum, and we are all receiving information.
The information we receive is like a relay race with all parts moving together. The sensory information tags a feeling and that feeling tags a thought and that thought tags an action. The action we choose, when we notice and process our needs, becomes our self-care.
Self-care starts at birth. We’ve been doing it all along.
- The baby feels scared and he cries. His self-care is that protective response to draw near his attachment.
- The toddler is off-routine and overly tired. Her self-care is a meltdown which allows her overloaded nervous system to regulate.
- The school-aged kiddo feels overwhelmed by his science project. His self-care is taking a break to grab some water and do five wall push-ups. This helps him refocus.
- The teen has a schedule that keeps her going. Her self-care is being holed up in her room to tune out the world for a bit.
We become adults and sometimes stop hearing the whispers of our sensory body until it eventually yells at us through various behaviors … reactivity to our children, feelings of not enough, depression, anxiety, feeling burnt-out, and more. All emotions are meant to move, and when we become so busy that we forget to pause and notice what we need (aka the ultimate self-care), we explode or implode. That’s why self-care is so important. It isn’t necessarily what you do but that you listen to your senses and feelings and allow yourself to receive whatever big or small experience you need.
Tools For Self-Care And Sensory Breaks
As we practice tuning into our sensory bodies and noticing our feelings, we model it for our children, too. Thanks to some helpful little fellas called mirror neurons, our children are wired to mirror the nervous system of those around them. What we practice, they catch and practice, too.
5 self-care and sensory body breaks for you and your child
The following tools are a few of the many activities in the Make It Stick Calendar for Social-Emotional Learning which are further described in the Make Social-Emotional Learning Stick activity book and card set. Or catch the full course to help these self-care and sensory body breaks stick!
1. Morning Check-In
Before getting out of bed, take a pause. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Either out loud or to yourself, ask your body what it needs, and then listen for its response. It may take a few mornings to re-establish a relationship with yourself but, with a little practice, you will start to hear its messages again.
2. Create Heat
Rub your hands together, slowly at first and then faster. Feel the friction building between your palms. After 30 seconds, bring your hands to your eyes, taking 3 deep breaths. This simple and quick practice helps soothe the nervous system and pulls us out of a flight, fight, or freeze response.
3. Schedule Sensory Breaks
Take inventory of the sensory needs of both you and your child. Maybe write them down or create a visual schedule with various sensory options that calm and alert the nervous system. And then, schedule them throughout the day in a playful way. For example, perhaps you decide to schedule them in the morning, before lunch, and after dinner. When it’s time, playfully say, “Freeze!”, giving everyone a moment to notice what their body needs. And then say, “Sensory party!”, inviting everyone to move their body in ways that feel good to them.
- Alerting activities may include: Swinging, spinning, jumping, crashing into pillows, stretch breaks, bear walk, crab walk, and light skin brushing.
- Calming activities may include: Playing in a sensory bin, moving to a space with dim lights and soft sounds, hugging a pillow or stuffed animal, bouncing on an exercise ball, rocking on a chair, lying under a weighted blanket, or doing a wall push-up.
4. Create A Calming Space
A Time-In space is a safe place to pause and check in with our sensory and emotional bodies. Create this space with your child and go there to teach about emotions and calming strategies, using feelings posters and mantra cards. Take turns asking and sharing, “Do I feel happy, sad, calm, or mad, and what does my body need?” This invites you and your child to regulate your systems together!
5. Tap To Reset
Tapping is a great way to reset the nervous system.
- One place to tap is the K27 point. To find these points, follow your collarbone until you reach the two inside corners, and then drop down about an inch. That’s it! You’ve found your K27 point. Tap or massage these points for about 30 seconds while breathing in and out, and invite your child to do the same.
- One tapping technique you can use to help your child reset and regulate is to tap along the spine, moving down the spine and then up again for about 30 seconds.
For more self-care and sensory body breaks, check out our Make It Stick Calendar for Social-Emotional Learning packed with activities that can easily be added in (not on) to your day!