In today’s climate of uncertainty, mindfulness – the simple practice of bringing a gentle, accepting attitude to the present moment – can sometimes feel out of reach. This is especially true for children who are on IEPs and/or who struggle with self-regulation skills (i.e., struggle to manage stressors, direct their attention, or process big emotions). For those of us in caregiving roles, it is essential to introduce mindfulness techniques into our therapy sessions.
Mindfulness helps children of all ages to check in with how they are feeling, and what they are thinking. Children with anxieties often have racing and wandering thoughts. But by providing tools to slow those thoughts down, we can enable them to feel in control of themselves.
How does mindfulness work? If you’ve ever let your mind wander during a conversation and then pulled yourself back…that’s mindfulness! It means taking control of your thoughts, in the moment. As you read this article, are you noticing how your feet are planted on the floor? Are you sitting up straight, or are you slouching? These are questions that help us be mindful. Integrating emotion (feelings) with cognition (thinking) and body-based experiences (sensations) promotes resilience, window of tolerance expansion, and recovery.
In counseling sessions, my goal is to encourage young patients to open about their frustration levels (tolerance expansion) and feelings towards their daily stressors (resilience). Emotion rating scales are extremely useful in helping children to identify their level of stress/anxiety. While there are several scales available, these have been my most successful:
This emotion rating scale works well with students in grades kindergarten through eighth. Some example questions I use with The Feeling Volcano are: “Where would you say you are today?.” “What would make you ‘heat up?” and “What would help you to cool down?”
Check Your Battery
This emotion rating scale helps students to check in with themselves in terms of energy and is a good choice when working at the middle and high school levels. You may ask, “How much energy do you have left today?”, “How much energy did you start with today?” and “Did you get a good night’s sleep last night?” Students identify how they are feeling using the colors, which each match up with a relevant question that you – as a mental health professional – would them ask.
Feeling Wheels are highly effective and have been used in therapy sessions for decades. This Feeling Wheel is great to use in therapy sessions with children of all ages…the 6 general emotions are a starting point for the younger students but can also be used to work your way outward for older students. A Feeling Wheel can assist by not only identifying feelings, but also prompting words that someone may not have previously known. The colors can help more creative-minded students turn words into feelings, thus evoking mindfulness.
As a School Counselor, you can use a Feeling Wheel during sessions to help students identify words to fit situations. Some questions you could ask: “How would your teacher feel if you turned in all your assignments today?” “How would you feel if your mom screamed at you every time you interrupted her?” If your session is online/virtual, allow the student annotation privileges and have them stamp the words.
The ability to help children bring their anxieties to the front of their minds – and sort through them without judgement – is both critical and fulfilling. These Feeling Scales have empowered me as a Counselor, and I hope they do the same for you!
What Feeling Scales and/or mindfulness techniques do YOU use in your practice? Please share in the comments!