What it sounds like:
‘I can see you’re upset because you’re frowning, your shoulders are raised and your fists clenched. Let your shoulders drop and unclench your fists and you’ll start to feel better.’
Why you should use it:
If you’re like me, you hate seeing pictures of yourself. This is because we’re not used to seeing ourselves. When I see a photo of myself, I ask questions like ‘do I always look like that?’ (The usual reply is ‘unfortunately, yes’.) This extends to a blindness towards our own body language, but describing a child’s behaviour signals can help them calm down when they’re angry.
Our body language directly impacts our emotions. Try this 30-second demonstration:
- Screw your forehead into a frown.
- Raise your shoulders to your ears as far as you can.
- Clench your fists as hard as you can.
- Hold this for 20 to 30 seconds.
Other than your face going red, you’ll probably start to feel the red mist of rage come over you.
- Open your eyes as wide as you can.
- Open your mouth into an ‘O’ shape.
- Raise your eyebrow.
You’ll probably feel surprise.
These emotions are quite quick to induce so imagine how useful it would be to change a child’s body language to help them to relax.
Telling a child (or anyone else for that matter) to relax is useless: they probably won’t know they aren’t relaxed and they won’t know how. So, making child aware of their body language gives clues to how they feel how they can relax. Gently describe their behaviour and follow it up with what they can do.
This concept is the basis of ‘Body Awareness Therapy’ and there is a lot of evidence to show it works (Gyllensten et al 2009; Johnsen and Råheim, 2010). It’s a painless way of bringing a child back from the brink of rage and will help them to recognize their emotional body language long-term too.
Amanda Lundvik Gyllensten, Charlotte Ekdahl & Lars Hansson (2009). Long-term effectiveness of Basic Body Awareness Therapy in psychiatric outpatient care. A randomized controlled study. Advances in Physiotherapy. 11:1, p2-12.
Ragnhild Wikene Johnsen & Målfrid Råheim (2010). Feeling more in balance and grounded in one’s own body and life. Focus group interviews on experiences with Basic Body Awareness Therapy in psychiatric healthcare. Advances in Physiotherapy. 12:3, p166-174.