I am a clinical child psychologist, and most of the children I work with at my clinic show symptoms of anxiety. Grounding exercises are wonderful tools that can help children feel safe and “rooted” when fears or worries become overwhelming.
Grounding is like a magic trick. They are very simple techniques which help shift a child’s mental focus from scary or negative emotions to their senses in the present moment.
If your child is prone to panic attacks, grounding exercises should be one of the first techniques they learn and become skilled in.
Grounding Exercises For Kids: Engaging the Senses
Let’s dive into the heart of these exercises – the five senses.
Engaging the senses anchors children firmly in the now. It’s not so much a question of moving away from uncomfortable feelings or strong emotions, or trying to avoid them.
It’s more about giving children the choice to focus their attention in a different area. It gives them power over the feelings, rather than feeling controlled by them.
This change of focus allows children to sit with the difficult feelings until they pass.
I recommend supporting your child to try a variety of simple grounding techniques.
They will discover what fits with their unique needs and tastes. Their preferred grounding techniques can then be more easily integrated into daily life.
- Grounding exercises are a powerful way to for children to regulate emotions and build resilience.
- Engaging the senses is important in many effective grounding techniques.
- Trying out a variety of grounding exercises ensures kids find suitable strategies for managing their emotions.
Understanding Grounding Exercises for Kids
The Importance of Learning Grounding Techniques for Kids
Speaking from my experience as a clinical psychologist, I can’t stress enough the importance of grounding exercises for children. Consider them as a powerful tool in their emotional toolkit.
Children today grapple with a myriad of feelings, some of which may feel intensely overwhelming.
Learning to manage these emotions with grounding exercises can be a real game-changer.
Introducing these simple grounding techniques to children from a young age is like planting a seed of resilience. With time, this seed will grow into a range of healthy coping mechanisms.
Just as we equip our children with life skills like swimming or riding a bike, grounding techniques are a skill for their emotional wellbeing. These skills will not only assist them through their youth but provide a strong foundation of emotional resilience they can draw on throughout their lives.
Grounding exercises are more than emotional anchors. They’re mental sharpeners too. These techniques direct attention to the present moment, effectively improving mental focus. In a world full of distractions, maintaining focus can be a struggle for children and teenagers alike.
These simple grounding techniques offer a way to gently train the mind, in the same way that we might train a muscle. Over time, their regular use can enhance concentration, making tasks at hand more manageable, and improving academic and personal performance. So overall, the benefits of grounding extend beyond the management of negative emotions. They contribute to broader mental agility and wellbeing.
Benefits for Anxiety and Stress
Grounding exercises have several benefits for children experiencing anxiety and stress. These exercises work by:
- Engaging the senses: Grounding exercises help children focus on their senses, such as sight, touch, smell, and hearing. By concentrating on sensory experiences instead of anxious thoughts, children can calm down more quickly and gain an appreciation for the little details in the environment around them. In other words, they can get “out of their heads” and into their real lives.
- Interrupting thought patterns: Anxiety often stems from repetitive negative thoughts. Grounding exercises give kids a mental break by interrupting these thought patterns and redirecting their focus to something tangible.
- Building confidence: As children become proficient in using grounding exercises to manage anxiety and stress, they will gain confidence in their ability to cope with challenging situations.
Ensure that they understand the purpose behind each exercise and encourage them to practise regularly, so they become skilled in managing their emotions. Incorporating grounding exercises in their daily routine will contribute to their overall mental health and well-being.
TAKE THE QUIZ!
Incorporating the Five Senses
Harnessing Sight: Visual Techniques
We can engage children’s vision with grounding exercises honing in on colours and objects. Think of it as a playful game. Ask your child to identify five items in their surroundings, detailing their colours, patterns and anything else they notice about the object. Go into lots of depth.
For example, if they choose a family photo in a frame, they may describe it as ‘a shiny silver frame with a photo of us on holiday.
In the photo, Mum’s wearing a blue dress with small, white polka dots and Dad’s wearing his favourite yellow T-shirt.
There’s a colourful rainbow in the background, with shades of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
The frame is cold to touch and has intricate patterns carved into it.’
Perhaps they notice how the sunlight reflects off the frame or how the coloured threads on Dad’s T-shirt interweave.
Maybe they observe the contrast of the vibrant rainbow against the pale sky in the photo.
This focus on visual elements not only roots them in the present moment but also sharpens their focus. It helps your child tune into fine details and appreciate the little things. Improved appreciation and gratitude has been shown to increase our wellbeing.
Auditory Grounding Techniques for Kids
Incorporating sounds into grounding exercises is another way to help kids manage anxiety and increase focus.
Let’s begin a new auditory adventure by transforming our children into ‘Sound Explorers’. Encourage them to close their eyes and focus on their hearing, creating a mental map of the soundscape around them. It could be the harmonious chirping of birds singing their morning songs, the rhythmic hum of cars passing by on a nearby street, or the soft, muted footsteps echoing from an upstairs room.
By drawing attention to these various, often overlooked, sounds, we help children cultivate a sense of calm. This process of active listening not only shifts their attention from overwhelming thoughts but also firmly grounds them in the present moment. It’s a bit like tuning into their favourite song, allowing the melody to wash over them and ease their mind. Indeed, the world around us is brimming with sounds that can help anchor our children in the ‘here and now’.
Touch and Connect: Tactile Techniques
Tactile grounding exercises, connecting with the texture of objects or how our body feels, can offer a soothing refuge for children navigating negative feelings. Invite your child to explore the varied textures surrounding them. Perhaps the soft, comforting embrace of their favourite blanket, or the cool, smooth surface of a collected stone.
Let’s go a bit further. Encourage your child to close their eyes and gently place their right hand on their left shoulder, applying a firm pressure. Then, guide them to slowly move their hand, exploring the sensation of their clothing against their skin, the slight tension in their muscles, even the rhythm of their heart rate under their fingers.
This can evolve into a “power hug” of different parts of the body, an encompassing self-embrace where they alternately squeeze different parts of their body. Starting from their left foot, progress to their right foot, then the stomach, up to the left hand, the right hand, left shoulder, and finally the right shoulder.
Finish with a deep belly breath, noticing what this feels like inside the body from start to finish.
Focusing on these various sensations actively interrupts the mind’s automatic anxiety response, offering an effective and immediate counter to distress. This mindful contact with our physical selves helps anchor us in the present moment, guiding our minds away from the whirling sea of worry and back to the safe harbour of the here and now.
Scents of Calm: Olfactory Techniques
Olfactory (small based) grounding exercises are a great addition to your child’s emotional toolkit. This simple technique involves harnessing the power of scent to ground our children in the present moment.
Go outside (where the smells are richer). Encourage your child to take a moment, close their eyes and deeply inhale, engaging with the scents around them. They might pick up on the aroma of meals being prepared in nearby homes, or the delicate fragrance of a blooming flower in the garden.
Scents, like snapshots, are deeply tied to our memory and emotion centres. By focusing on these different aromas, children gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of their surroundings. It’s a bit like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, with each scent adding to the full picture of the present moment. And in that focus, there is a calming effect, a step away from worries and a step into the ‘now’.
A Taste of Presence: Gustatory Grounding Techniques for Kids
Gustatory (taste based) grounding exercises are one of the easiest ways to captivate a child’s attention and direct it towards the present.
Hand your child a small, savoury snack or a piece of their favourite fruit. Ask them to take a moment to really savour it. Encourage them to describe the burst of flavours dancing on their tongue. Is it sweet, salty, tangy, or a mix of these? Does the flavour change as they continue to chew? What’s the texture like? What memories does it conjure up for them?
As they savour and describe, your child’s worries take a backseat, and they find themselves firmly grounded in the present moment. A moment that is full of taste and free from stress.
15 Grounding Exercises for Kids
1. A-B-C Around the Room
Asking your child to identify objects that start with each letter of the alphabet. This can be done either indoors or outdoors and encourages your child to observe their surroundings.
2. Belly Breathe
Teach your child deep breathing exercises to help them stay calm and focused. Slow, deep belly breaths tell the brain: “I am safe”. They stimulate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, also known as “rest and digest”. Have them place one hand on their belly and the other on their chest and take slow, deep breaths. This establishes a vital connection between the mind and body.
3. Counting Colours and Shapes
An easy way to ground your child’s attention is through a ‘Colour and Shape Detective’ game. Ask them to count the variety of colours and shapes in their immediate surroundings.
Perhaps they’re in their room among vivid toys and diverse shapes, or outside amongst a spectrum of flowers and plants. Each colour they notice, each shape they identify, pulls their focus from internal concerns to the vibrant world around them.
Though seemingly simple, this game serves a vital purpose: grounding your child in the present moment. This mindful exploration helps manage uncomfortable feelings, promoting focus and emotional balance.
4. Five Senses Scavenger Hunt
Create a scavenger hunt for your child based on their five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. This helps them practise mindfulness and become more aware of their environment.
5. Finger Breathing
In this exercise, your child traces the outline of their hand with their finger while coordinating their breaths. They’ll inhale while tracing up and exhale while tracing down, helping them develop deep breathing and focus skills. Ensure each in-breath and out-breath lasts around 5 seconds.
6. Mindful Stretching
Introduce simple stretching exercises to your child, such as reaching for the sky, touching their toes, or shaking out their limbs. Encourage them to focus on their body sensations during these stretches to develop mindfulness.
7. Exploring Outdoors: Nature Walks
Nature walks offer an easy way to introduce older children to grounding exercises. This simple technique combines the calming effects of nature with the practice of mindfulness, providing a double dose of emotional grounding.
Imagine guiding your child through the rustling trees of a nearby park, the textured terrain under their feet, the changing canvas of the sky above. Each step they take, each breath of fresh air they inhale, brings them closer to the natural world and further from their worries.
Encourage your child to engage all their senses during these walks. The melody of bird songs, the fragrance of blooming flowers, the mosaic of colours in the landscape. Each offers a distinct path to mindfulness.
A nature walk isn’t just about reaching a destination. It’s about the journey, the observations, and the connections made along the way. By focusing on the present moment and soaking in nature’s beauty, children can achieve a sense of calm and enhance their overall wellbeing.
8. Object Identification
Ask your child to focus on a specific object in their surroundings, such as a leaf or a pebble. Have them describe the object in detail, including its texture, shape, and colour. This enhances their observational skills and strengthens their mindfulness.
9. Cloud Watching
Cloud watching is a relaxing activity that helps your child practise mindfulness and encourages creative thinking. Lie down together outside and ask them to describe the shapes, colours, and movement of the clouds they see. “This one looks like a sea-lion!”. “That one just turned into a butterfly!”
10. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is an effective technique that involves sequentially tensing and relaxing different muscle groups. This method not only helps your child become more aware of their body, but it also enables them to release physical tension, leading to a calmer, more grounded state of mind. I find it can be a particularly helpful tool for children who have experienced a traumatic event or are very nervous about an upcoming event.
Here’s a simple guide on how to practice PMR with your child:
- Begin by finding a quiet, comfortable space where your child can sit or lie down without distractions.
- Ask your child to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths, setting a calm and focused mood.
- Start with the muscles in their toes. Guide your child to tighten (or ‘squeeze’) these muscles as hard as they can, holding for about five seconds.
- Next, instruct your child to abruptly release these muscles, letting all the tension flow out and away.
- Gradually move upwards through the body – the legs, the stomach, the hands, the arms, the shoulders, the neck, and finally the face – repeating the process of tensing and releasing.
- After going through all the muscle groups, encourage your child to take a few more deep breaths, noting the sense of calm and relaxation that has enveloped their body.
By increasing awareness of physical sensations, PMR can help children better understand and regulate their emotions. Over time, your child may begin to notice when certain feelings are associated with physical tension and can use this technique to release it, promoting emotional wellbeing and grounding.
11. Quiet Time Visualization
Ask your child to close their eyes and visualise a peaceful place, such as a beach or a forest. This activity promotes relaxation and, at the same time, encourages their imagination.
12. Sound Mapping
In this exercise, your child listens to the sounds around them and creates a mental map of their location. This helps improve their listening skills while developing an awareness of their surroundings.
13. Texture Touch Exploration
Have your child explore their environment through touch by feeling different textures, such as soft, rough, or smooth surfaces. This tactile experience encourages mindfulness and enhances their understanding of the world around them.
14. Water Play
Water play can be a soothing and grounding activity for your child. Allow them to splash in a puddle, play in a sandpit or run their fingers through water, focusing on the sensations it provides. This activity isn’t just for younger children! Teenagers love playing in water too.
15. Yoga for Kids
Introducing your child to simple yoga poses, such as the tree pose or the downward-facing dog, can help them develop mindfulness and body awareness. Practising yoga regularly can also improve their focus, balance, and flexibility.
Download Your Grounding Exercises Summary Sheet
A summary of the exercises in this article in convenient PDF format for you to download and keep.
Download the digital file below.
Teaching Grounding Skills and Resilience
As a parent, your involvement is crucial in teaching grounding skills and resilience to your child. You play a vital role in promoting their emotional well-being by modelling and guiding them through various exercises. Start by introducing mindful grounding techniques suitable for children, such as body scans, focusing on their breath, or becoming aware of external stimuli. By practicing and reinforcing these techniques with your child, you help them develop essential skills for managing anxiety and fostering resilience.
Reinforcing Techniques at Home
To ensure these grounding techniques become second nature to your child, it’s vital to practise them when your child is calm, not just when their emotions are running high. Consistency is key. Here are a few suggestions:
- Create a safe space: Designate a comfortable and calm area in your home where your child can practice grounding exercises without disruptions.
- Routine: Incorporate grounding exercises into daily routines. For example, practice breathing techniques together after breakfast or before bedtime.
- Use visual aids: Provide your child with visual reminders like posters, flashcards or charts that outline different grounding exercises.
- Encourage open communication: Talk to your child about their feelings, worries, and emotions, and reassure them it’s normal to experience difficult emotions.
- Model self-care: Demonstrate to your child the importance of self-care by engaging in stress-reducing activities for your own well-being too.
By actively involving yourself in your child’s emotional development and continuously reinforcing grounding techniques, you support their journey towards better emotional regulation, which contributes to overall resilience and well-being.
Remember, resilience is a skill, and with patience, practice, and understanding, your child can develop healthier coping mechanisms.
Coping with Flashbacks and Depression
If your child has experienced trauma and is experiencing flashbacks, grounding techniques may play an important role in their recovery. However, you need to be guided by an experienced mental health professional.
If you notice persistent or concerning signs of depression or emotional distress in your child, consider seeking professional help from a mental health professional such as a psychologist or therapist, to discuss more specialised coping strategies and support tailored to your child’s needs.
Case Study: Amelia, Age 9
Amelia is a lively and inquisitive 9-year-old who frequently grapples with heightened anxiety. To aid in managing her anxiety, grounding exercises were introduced into her routine. Let’s review some of the specific exercises used and their effectiveness.
The Finger Breathing Technique was introduced early on. Amelia was coached to gently inhale through her nose for a count of five, whilst tracing the shape of her thumb from bottom to top. She would then inhale for a count of five whilst travelling from top to bottom until she reached the first finger. She continued to the end of her hand (finishing with the little finger) and then backwards towards the thumb. This practice enhanced Amelia’s awareness of her breathing, helping to pacify her fast-paced thoughts.
Incorporating the outdoors, Amelia’s support team introduced Nature Walks into her routine. These outdoor excursions were an ideal way for Amelia to engage with her surroundings while being physically active. As they walked, Amelia was encouraged to observe the shapes, colours, and patterns around her – the rustling leaves, chirping birds, and the feel of the breeze. This interaction with the natural world increased Amelia’s presence in the moment, successfully shifting her attention from snowballing anxious thoughts.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation was another critical part of Amelia’s new routine. Amelia’s mum supported her to practise this method every day, guiding Amelia through the process of tensing and relaxing different muscle groups. This approach helped Amelia to connect with her body and relieve physical tension linked to anxiety.
The final key technique was a variant of the I Spy game, tailored to incorporate grounding principles. Amelia learned to scan her environment and describe objects with sensory details, whenever she felt her anxiety rising.
With the regular daily practice of these grounding exercises, after a week weeks Amelia showed a significant reduction in anxiety. She knew there were simple techniques that could instantly tame her big feelings.
As Amelia’s mum and the wider support team continued to facilitate the use of these techniques, Amelia gained confidence and enhanced control over her emotions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the top grounding techniques?
There are many effective grounding techniques to help children manage anxiety and stress. Some popular techniques include deep belly breathing, focused attention on their surroundings, body scan meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation. Encourage your child to experiment with different techniques to find out what works best for them.
Which grounding exercises suit groups of children?
An easy way to incorporate grounding techniques in a group setting is through fun activities such as a Five Senses Scavenger Hunt. Children can work together to identify objects that engage their five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. This not only encourages teamwork but also promotes presence in the moment.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation can also be adapted to a group environment. By guiding the children together through the process of tensing and relaxing different muscle groups, they learn about body awareness and how to release tension. Clear, simple instructions can make this a calming shared experience that helps the group manage stress collectively.
What grounding methods help ADHD?
For children with ADHD, active grounding exercises can be helpful because they are most engaging and stimulating. Movement-focused exercises like yoga, martial arts or active body scan, can be particularly effective in helping to channel their energy and focus.
How can teens benefit from grounding?
Teenagers can benefit from grounding exercises in the same ways younger children do. Grounding techniques can help them manage daily stress and anxiety, improve emotional regulation, enhance self-awareness, and develop healthy coping mechanisms. Encourage your teenager to find their preferred grounding techniques through experimentation and gradually incorporate them into their daily routine.
What are creative grounding methods?
Creative grounding methods can involve art, music, or storytelling. Encourage your child to express their feelings and thoughts through drawing, painting, writing, or singing. You can also explore imaginative mindfulness techniques like guided imagery or visualization. This will allow your child to learn and adapt to different grounding techniques in various contexts, making it easier for them to stay present and manage stress.
Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years. In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children.
Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents and children who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.
Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.
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