I posted yesterday about the energy level and enthusiasm (um, yeah, we'll call it enthusiasm) of our 4 year old Little Girl. Little Girl CANNOT be still! Or so I thought up until a couple weeks ago.
She's always bouncing around or running or dancing or doing forward rolls or standing on her head (yes, literally!). So it was really no surprise to me what I saw when I peered in the window of her pre-K classroom right before pick up time the first week of school. I saw 13 children perfectly sitting criss-cross applesauce on the rug in a semi-circle around the teacher who was reading to them and Little Girl was also in the circle but rather than sitting nicely she was bobbing up and down in excitement, rocking back and forth on her knees, even jumping up to point at pictures in the book! Her behavior didn't surprise me in the least, but the contrast to the other children did.
"Oh dear!" I thought. "We are going to have to get this sitting still thing down before kindergarten next year!"
Little Girl was adopted from Ethiopia at age 3, she's now 4, almost 5. I've learned a lot these past few years about children from "hard places" and one thing is that the kids are very often labeled as ADHD but only a few truly should be, the rest struggle with hyperarousal where they get so keyed up and then have trouble calming down and regulating their emotions. Did you know that trauma even in utero can change a child's brain? It can. The stress causes the child's brain to release more hormones like adrenaline and cortisol which then speed up heart rate and breathing and cause muscles to tense up. Over time these stress hormones can cause dysregulation in children that may last for years after the stress or trauma has ended!
But, there is much good news in brain research. The children's brains can slowly be rewired over time. First the children need to feel safe. Then they can be taught calming skills. Over time their brain chemistry can change back to more normal levels.
Here's one technique I found after the pre-K epiphany a couple weeks ago to help Little Girl learn to sit still for a few minutes and thus calm herself down.
It's called Strong Sitting (here's an article on it). My quick explanation is that you practice by having your child sit in the middle of the floor with their legs crossed, their back straight, their hands folded in front of them, and their mouth closed for short periods of time and then once they have success for say 30 seconds sitting nicely and quietly the next time you increase it to 1 minute. Ultimately a child should be able to sit like this for 1 minute for each year of age. So my Little Girl is 4 years old so she ought to be able to sit still for 4 minutes. We are currently at 3 minutes and working up!
Here are some key things about this technique:
- It is not punishment! You can use it during times your child is acting wild but not like it's a negative consequence more like, "You seem pretty reved up, let's calm down by practicing your strong sitting."
- Make it a game. Little Girl is so competitive that all I have to say is, "I bet you can't do the strong sitting for 2 minutes." And she's all, "OH YES I CAN!"
- Set the timer for your goal time and reset it if your child talks or breaks the sitting position. Again, don't make it sound like a punishment, just matter of factly point out, "Oh, you talked. Remember you can't talk during your strong sitting. Try Again! I'll set the timer over."
- Cheer like crazy for them when they make the goal (even if the goal was just 30 seconds it's an accomplishment for them)!
It's working! I even shared the term "Strong Sitting" with Little Girl's teachers and the first day they suggested to her that she do her "strong sitting" during storytime, they were amazed at how well she sat. And best of all, she came out of the classroom so proud to tell me how nicely she sat! "I was the best one at the strong sitting, Mom! I did better than all the other kids!"
There is so much hope for these kids from hard places and any high-energy kids who need some extra practice calming themselves!
Find more Works for Me Wednesday here.