Christmas Mindfulness

Picture of Christmas tree with arrows on ribbons and text reading "Christmas mindfulness activity"

If Christmas mindfulness is something you would like to achieve this holiday season, we’ve got a seasonal strategy for you. This deep breaths Christmas tree is a deep breathing exercise that is sure to be a go-to Christmas season mindfulness activity that supports self-regulation needs for kids and families. Use this holiday sensory tool along with our breathing star.

Christmas mindfulness

Christmas Mindfulness

This time of year, most of us knee deep in holiday planning, prep work, and to-do lists! Having a few mindfulness for kids tools up your sleeve is a good idea this time of year. Today, I wanted to provide some tips on mindfulness during the holidays.

For our kids with self-regulation needs or emotional regulation challenges that impact learning, emotions, anxiety, or worries, the holiday season can be a time of even more concern.

Over the holidays, school and routines are off. There may be late nights at holiday parties, parents out for work events, unfamiliar family and friends visiting, new sights and sounds. All of this sensory input and environmental input can put a regulation system on overdrive.

Then, in the school environment, there may be school parties, special events, and special themed days. The classroom Christmas party (or winter party) can be cause for sensory overload for some kids. Picture a classroom full of excited children at the end of a semester. The noises, sights, and environmental input can be just too much.

In the community, there is holiday music, crowds, and a sense of excitement in the air. This can be a reason all its own for Christmas mindfulness tools.

Then imagine the child with regulation needs at a family party with unfamiliar guests, a scratchy sweater, strange smells, and lots of noise. A Christmas mindfulness tool that the child can pull out and use to ease worries or stressors can be a great strategy for this time of year.

Kids are barraged by schedule changes, anticipation of holiday events, later bedtimes, holiday travel, parent/teacher stress, increased sugar…and more. They feel these big feelings and can “lose it”, seemingly at the drop of a hat. Children can melt down in front of our eyes. This time of year perhaps especially, there is SO much going on inside those little bodies and minds. Focusing on mindfulness and coping strategies can help.

I mean, think about it this way: We as adults are totally stressed out by deadlines, shopping lists, travel, extended family, holiday budgets, and the never-ending to-do lists.

Our kids see that stress and anxiety.

Think about our kiddos with sensory struggles. They are bombarded by lights and music, hustle and bustle in the grocery store, shopping mall, and even by the neighborhood lights. The later bedtimes and influx of sensory input is a challenge to process for them. It’s overwhelming and exhausting.

Think about our students with praxis or motor issues. There are crowds to navigate, auditorium stages to maneuver and they need to do it FAST. There are schedules to maintain and growing to-do lists!

And that’s just the beginning. All of our kids…no matter what their strengths or needs be…struggle with the change in routines, the adult stress, anticipation, holiday projects, gift giving issues, that extra sugar from holiday sweets, itchy holiday sweaters and scratchy tights, or mom’s stress from holiday traffic.

That “iceberg” of underlying issues and concerns is a holiday version that leads to emotional breakdowns, poor coping skills, and sensory meltdowns.

Now, think about the kiddo with executive functioning challenges. They can’t plan ahead or prioritize tasks when they have a holiday letter to write, a classroom sing-along to practice for, and Grandma’s house to visit next weekend. It’s hard for them to function when their routine is off kilter and anticipation is high.

There are so many benefits to mindfulness, and supporting kids in this way makes a huge impact. Having a few Christmas themed mindfulness strategies on hand could make all the difference when it comes to experiencing all that this season has to offer.

Christmas Mindfulness Activity

Below, you will find a Christmas mindfulness activity and some coping strategies to address the holiday stress. This mindfulness tool goes along well with our Pumpkin deep breathing exercise, and Thanksgiving mindfulness activity.

Christmas mindfulness activity for kids during the holiday season.

When we think about the holidays from the perspective of a child. Having a set of mindfulness activities for kids is a great way to fill their toolbox with strategies they can use each day.

Essentially, the post urges us to be mindful of the child’s thought process, emotions, and coping strategies this time of year.

Holiday Mindfulness

Below, you’ll find a printable Deep breathing Christmas tree printable that kids can use to support regulation needs. It offers relaxation breathing as a sensory tool.

Print off the sheet and trace along the arrows as the user breathes deeply in and out. This calm and centering visual tracking paired with deep breathing can help the user to focus with mindful breathing.

Mindful breathing is helpful in calming heart rate, easing anxious thoughts, and helping the user to focus on one thought rather than the many thoughts that may be running through their head.

You can even pair the visual Christmas mindfulness breathing tool with visualizations.

  • Ask the user to visualize a calm space with a lit Christmas tree in a dimly lit room.
  • Ask the user to visualize a calm space rather than the hustle and bustle that may be happening around them.
  • Invite the user to imagine deeply breathing in the scent of a Christmas tree and breathing out the same scent as they empty their lungs.
  • Invite the user to picture the worry and anxiety slowly releasing from their body as they move down the slopes of the Christmas tree.
  • Pair the deep breathing with thoughts of things that remind you of peace and love (for example) for with each breath.
  • For each layer of the tree, kids can concentrate on one thing, person, or aspect of the holidays that they are grateful for. Thinking about whatever it is that you are grateful for is a simple way to pair the benefits of slow deep breaths with intentional thoughts.

Focus on breath control as the user breaths in and out.

Then, show the user how to carry over this Christmas mindfulness strategy using a real Christmas tree.

  1. After using the printable Christmas tree deep breathing exercise, they can look at a real Christmas tree and trace the lines of the tree’s sides with their eyes as they breathe in and breathe out.
  2. Ask them to trace an imaginary Christmas tree, or triangle shape on the palm of their hand using the pointer finger of their other hand.

This becomes a Christmas mindfulness tool that they can use any where and any time even without the printable exercise.

Christmas mindfulness activity

Christmas COping Tools

This holiday season, I wanted to fill your toolbox with the tools your little one (or client/student) needs to thrive.

These are the strategies and tips we can use to slow down, take a deep breath, and recognize the underlying issues going on behind behaviors, meltdowns, and frustrations.

Because when you have the tools in place, you have a blueprint for success in the child.

Here are some holiday tools that can help both YOU and a CHILD struggling with all that this time of year brings…

Christmas Mindfulness

This is a coloring page. Use it as a handout or home program. Kids can color it in and work on fine motor skills, too!

Use the Christmas mindfulness handout with kids as a group or individually. You can set this up in several ways. Ask them fist to list out some things they are grateful for. Then, quietly say an item with each breath break.

As a mindfulness group activity, use the Christmas tree graphic and explain that they will be pairing deep breathing with a focus on love or peace. Come up with a list of things the group loves about the holidays. As you work through he deep breathing exercise, the children in the group can focus on things that brings them peace personally.

Or, you could invite the child to think in their head about some things that remind them of the holidays and then with each breath in, they intentionally concentrate on that thing/person/idea.

More Christmas Mindfulness Strategies

Here are more coping tools for kids that focus on addressing underlying needs so that kids can function. Use these strategies as part of a sensory diet or within the day.

The thing about mindfulness is that the tools that support needs will differ for every individual. During the holiday season, there are ways to support mindful needs with the holidays in mind:

All of these are self-regulation strategies with a holiday theme and can be a powerful tool when it comes to supporting emotional and sensory needs during the holidays.

Mindful Christmas

Having a mindful Christmas can mean being aware of stressors or things that add a sense of dysregulation.

During the holiday season, the connection between mindfulness and self-regulation becomes even more crucial, especially for children and therapy providers navigating the potential stress, anxiety, and worries associated with this time. Mindfulness practices offer a valuable toolkit for managing these challenges:

Stress Reduction: The holiday season can bring added stress, but mindfulness provides a means to cultivate a calm and centered state, helping both children and therapy providers navigate and mitigate holiday-related stressors.

Emotional Regulation: Mindfulness practices, tailored for children and therapy providers, become essential tools for recognizing and regulating emotions heightened by holiday-related pressures. This contributes to a more emotionally balanced experience.

Anxiety Management: Mindfulness techniques, such as mindful breathing or guided imagery, can be powerful allies in managing anxiety. They provide a practical and accessible way for children and therapy providers to alleviate anxiety during the holiday hustle.

Worry Coping Strategies: The mindfulness approach of observing thoughts without judgment is particularly helpful in addressing worries. Children and therapy providers can utilize mindfulness to create a mental space to acknowledge concerns and develop effective coping strategies.

Enhanced Focus and Presence: Mindfulness helps maintain focus on the present moment, preventing holiday-related worries from overwhelming the joy of the season. This is especially beneficial for therapy providers supporting children, ensuring they are fully present during sessions.

Cultivating Resilience: Mindfulness fosters resilience by promoting adaptability and acceptance. This quality becomes crucial during the holiday season, where unexpected changes or challenges may arise for both children and therapy providers.

Empathy and Connection: Mindfulness practices that emphasize compassion and empathy contribute to a sense of connection. Therapy providers can incorporate these practices to create a supportive and understanding environment for children navigating holiday stressors.

By integrating mindfulness into therapeutic approaches, therapy providers can empower children with valuable self-regulation tools, fostering a positive and mindful experience during the holiday season. The practices not only address immediate stressors but also contribute to building resilience and coping skills for the long term.

Free printable Christmas Mindfulness Printable

Want to grab our Christmas tree mindfulness deep breathing exercise? Enter your email address into the form below. This printable is also available inside The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Members can log in and head over to our Mindfulness Toolbox where we have this and other Christmas mindfulness printable exercises.

Print off this Christmas breathing activity and start supporting skills. This Christmas coping skills activity can be used on the go while out and about this holiday season, at a family get together, or during school assemblies for the holiday season.

Get a Christmas Tree Mindfulness Coloring Page

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.
    Powered By ConvertKit

    Wishing you a thriving, stress-free, and functional holiday season for you and those kiddos you serve!

    You will also want to grab a copy of our breathing star, which can be paired with our Christmas mindfulness tool.

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

    Looking for done-for you therapy activities this holiday season?

    This print-and-go Christmas Therapy Kit includes no-prep, fine motor, gross motor, self-regulation, visual perceptual activities…and much more… to help kids develop functional grasp, dexterity, strength, and endurance. Use fun, Christmas-themed, motor activities so you can help children develop the skills they need.

    This 100 page no-prep packet includes everything you need to guide fine motor skills in face-to-face AND virtual learning. You’ll find Christmas-themed activities for hand strength, pinch and grip, dexterity, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, endurance, finger isolation, and more. 

    Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise for Halloween Mindfulness

    Pumpkin deep breathing exercise

    This Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise is the very first visual breathing tool that we created here on the website. We now have many more deep breathing exercises designed to support self-regulation, mindfulness, and brain break needs. We’ve recently updated this Halloween mindfulness activity to include more information on WHY this pumpkin deep breathing strategy works. We’ve also updated the printable to include a pumpkin breathing poster and a pumpkin mindfulness coloring page! This printable deep breathing exercise is a great Halloween Mindfulness mindfulness activity.

    You can get both below or access them in our Member’s Club.

    Pumpkin Deep breathing exercise

    Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise

    This Halloween activity is one that I came up with while thinking about our recent Halloween Occupational Therapy activities post. So often, we see kids who struggle with coping strategies and require tools to improve self regulation.

    This can occur at school or at home. What if we could combine a child’s interest in all things Halloween with a deep breathing exercise that can be used as a coping strategy, or a calm down activity?

    That’s where this pumpkin deep breathing exercise comes in.

    This deep breathing exercise uses a pumpkin for a coping strategy for kids that is a calm down strategy this Halloween.

    Halloween Mindfulness Activity

    We’ve created many breathing exercises to calm down kids (and adults) here on the website, and this pumpkin themed mindfulness strategy is just one of the tools in the toolbox.

    So often, parents and teachers ask for strategies to use as a coping mechanism. When kids have coping tools in their toolbox for addressing sensory needs, worries, and getting to that “just right” state of regulation, a self-reflective state can occur.

    Addressing specific needs like sensory overload, worries or anxiety, fears, or nervousness can be as simple as having a set of sensory coping strategies on hand. One way to do this is using mindfulness and positive coping skills like this deep breathing exercises.

    Using deep breathing exercises to support mindfulness and coping skills works for several reasons:

    • When kids are taught about how their body feels and reacts in certain situations, they can self-reflect on past responses.
    • They can better understand who they are and how their body reacts to stressful or sensory situations.
    • By better understanding their states of regulation, they can be mindful of things that may set them off, but better yet, know how to respond.
    • Having a coping strategy on hand can set them up for success in learning or social situations.

    Practicing mindfulness activities and coping strategies can be powerful for kids!

    Mindfulness is the ability and awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations as our body responds or reacts in thought, feeling, and sensations. Mindfulness is being present in the moment in any given situation with full awareness of inward and outward sensations. Practicing mindful awareness through deep breathing exercises is one way to notice how our body is reacting in a given moment and provides a tool to reset. Coping skills for kids may include deep breathing as just one strategy.

    Here are some mindfulness videos on YouTube to help kids better understand what coping strategies and mindfulness in action looks and feels like.

    Deep breathing acts as a coping tactic and a calming activity. It’s an easy coping strategy for kids because taking deep breaths with mindful breathing can be done anywhere and without any equipment.

    Taking controlled breaths with deep breathing can give kids a sense of control that helps them rest and address self-regulation or emotional regulation when they are upset, worried, or feel a need to calm down.

    Halloween Breathing Exercise

    So now that we’ve covered deep breathing and why it’s a helpful coping strategy for kids, let’s talk about a fun Halloween themed coping strategy that kids will love to try.

    The deep breathing printable activity uses a simple picture of a pumpkin, but you can use a real pumpkin, too.

    Use a real pumpkin for more sensory benefits.

    The small decorative gourds or pie pumpkins are perfect for this activity, because kids can hold the small pumpkin in their hands and feel the weight of the pumpkin as they complete the breathing strategy.

    1. Hold a small pumpkin in the palm of your hand.
    2. Use your pointer finger of your other hand to slowly trace up a ridge and breathe in.
    3. Then trace down another ridge and breathe out.
    4. Continue tracing the ridges of the pumpkin while deeply breathing in and out.

    Take the breathing exercise a step further by trace the lines up toward the stem while taking a deep breath in. Hold the breath for a few seconds and then trace a line down another section of the pumpkin while slowly breathing out. Hold that breath for a few seconds. Repeat this process as you slowly trace up and down the sections of the pumpkin.

    What’s happening with this pumpkin breathing exercise?

    Several sensory systems are at work here when using a real pumpkin in this Halloween mindfulness strategy:

    Heavy Work- The weight of the pumpkin on the arches of the palm of the hand= PROPRIOCEPTIVE sensory system.

    Calming Tactile Cues- Engaging the tactile sensory system to trace the ridges of a smooth surface. Think about how some individuals like rubbing specific textures like a silky blanket or the calming strips of a fidget tool. Running a finger along the groove of a smooth pumpkin surface engages that calming tactile input.

    Belly Breathing- Deep breaths combined with a visual focus offers proprioceptive input through the lungs and diaphragm. Engage belly breathing by taking in fully breaths to fully engage the lungs. Then hold the breath for a second or two before releasing the breath. When belly breathing is engaged, the lungs continue to expand for a moment and add further pressure throughout the ribcage and internal organs. This breath control evokes the interoceptive system.

    Bilateral Coordination- When holding the pumpkin and tracing with a finger on the other hand, both sides of the body are at work in a coordinated manner, otherwise known as bilateral coordination. Holding the pumpkin with one hand and tracing with the other hand engages bilateral use of both sides of the body.

    Whether you are using a pumpkin picture or real pumpkin, show kids how to use deep breathing as a coping tool by taking calming breaths while they trace the lines of the pumpkin.

    Pumpkin deep breathing poster and coloring page
    Pumpkin deep breathing poster and coloring page

    Halloween Deep Breathing Poster

    In this newest update to our calming breathing exercise, we created both a pumpkin deep breathing poster and a coloring page.

    1. The poster can be printed out and hung in a classroom, therapy clinic or home.

    2. Use the deep breathing exercise as a brain break during the month of October.

    3. It’s a great tool for using during Halloween parties as a therapist- approved activity that supports underlying needs, too.

    4. Many times, children can become overstimulated during classroom Halloween parties, and the days leading up to Halloween. Use the pumpkin deep breathing visual as a tool for the whole classroom to organize their sensory systems and focus on the learning that still needs to happen.

    5. This printable page is full color and makes a great addition to a calm down corner this time of year.

    6. You can even add the pumpkin breathing poster to our Fall Sensory Stations, and include this in a hallway or therapy clinic this time of year.

    7. One final way to use this pumpkin mindfulness exercise is during the actual trick or treating. Kids with sensory or self-regulation needs can become overstimulated during trick or treating on Halloween. There is a lot of sensory stimulation out there! From lights, to fog machines, children running in the streets, and lots of strangers in the neighborhood, trick-or-treating is an overloading environment for many kids and adults! Print off a copy of this pumpkin deep breathing tool and use it calm down, engage focused breathing strategies, and cope as needed!

    Pumpkin Breathing Coloring Page

    In the new download below, you’ll also find a page that is a pumpkin breathing coloring page. We know there are many benefits of coloring and one is the calming ability that coloring has.

    Adding heavy work by coloring in pages can be a great way to calm the sensory system through heavy work in the hands.

    Print off the coloring page and use it in several ways this time of year:

    • Color in at occupational therapy sessions
    • Use as a whole class activity
    • Kids can color in the breathing exercise page and use them as individual brain break tools
    • Hang the coloring page on a bulletin board for Halloween that explains sensory self-regulation strategies
    • Include in a Halloween party
    Use a pumpkin as a deep breathing exercise for a coping strategy for kids.

    This printable Halloween mindfulness activity supports coping needs.

    Free Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise

    Want to get this free Pumpkin breathing exercise in both a color Poster format AND a coloring page? You’ve got it! Just enter your email address into the form below to access both printable pages.

    This resource is also inside our Member’s Club. Members can log into their accounts and download the file directly without the need to enter an email address. The printable pages are located on our Pumpkin Therapy Theme page and our Mindfulness Toolbox.

    Not a member of the Member’s Club yet? JOIN US HERE.

    Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise

      What other freebies and resources would you like to receive?
      We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

      Grab the Pumpkin Fine Motor Kit for more coloring, cutting, and eye-hand coordination activities with a Pumpkin theme! It includes:

      • 7 digital products that can be used any time of year- has a “pumpkins” theme
      • 5 pumpkin scissor skills cutting strips
      • Pumpkin scissor skills shapes- use in sensory bins, math, sorting, pattern activities
      • 2 pumpkin visual perception mazes with writing activity
      • Pumpkin “I Spy” sheet – color in the outline shapes to build pencil control and fine motor strength
      • Pumpkin Lacing cards – print, color, and hole punch to build bilateral coordination skills
      • 2 Pumpkin theme handwriting pages – single and double rule bold lined paper for handwriting practice

      Work on underlying fine motor and visual motor integration skills so you can help students excel in handwriting, learning, and motor skill development.

      You can grab this Pumpkin Fine Motor kit for just $6!

      Halloween Mindfulness Activities

      Use this printable pumpkin deep breathing exercise as a Halloween mindfulness activity. Other printable Halloween mindfulness activities include:

      Halloween Hand Breathing Technique

      We also have a new deep breathing exercise for the Fall or Halloween season. If using a printable to achieve Halloween coping skills isn’t ideal (sometimes you don’t have the printable version with you…or for some kids it might be hard for them to picture a pumpkin as they are coping with some self-regulation needs…), then having another tool in your toolbox is a must.

      We’ve come up with a Halloween Hand Breathing Technique to fit the bill!

      All you need is your hands and fingers to using this hand tracing breathing strategy.

      We talk a bit about using the Hand Breathing Technique for a self-reset to address coping skills, mindset, offset worries or anxiety, and as a deep breathing strategy.

      Check out our video over on YouTube, or you can see it below. If you can’t view the video due to blockers on your computer or device, check out our Pumpkin Hand Breathing Technique over on YouTube.

      To complete the Halloween Hand breathing technique, you can use the same pumpkin deep breathing strategy, but trace a pumpkin on the palm of your hand. We also included a pumpkin tracing task to create a motor plan for the pumpkin shape that is incorporated with deep breaths in and out.

      Have fun!

      Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

      Self Care Strategies for Therapy Providers

      Self care strategies

      Are you taking care of yourself with self care strategies as a busy therapy provider? Changes in routines, uncertainties, new requirements for therapy interventions…all of these transitions are reasons to add self care strategies in order to maintain occupational balance. In this post, I wanted to put together a toolbox for you. Here, you will find tips for self care for therapy providers. These are resources for self-reflection, mindfulness, self-care strategies, and easy ways for you to take care of yourself as a therapy provider.

      Self care strategies for therapy providers

      Take current events, the additional responsibilities of distance learning (and teaching your own kids), social distancing, and the stress of getting through the grocery store. Then add the task of planning and running teletherapy sessions. Add digital communication with kids at extreme needs to regular work challenges (Helloooo billing, documentation, productivity…or even unemployment.)

      All of this together can build to create a tipping point of worries, stress, and anxiety for therapy providers.

      Self care strategies for therapists

      Self Care Strategies for Therapy Providers

      Therapy professionals are no strangers to the need to have a self care plan in place. Occupational therapists, OTAs, speech therapists, and physical therapists, PTAs, are long-time sufferers of therapy burnout.

      Take a look at the caseload requirements, productivity standards, and unpaid tasks that many therapists need to balance. But add in the new challenges with serving clients with increased productivity requirements, in many cases and self care for health professionals is very much-needed now more than ever.

      Being cooped up at a computer means you may not be getting your regular exercise and dose of fresh air. All of that time spent indoors can lead to worries, depression, or a building up of anxiety in your chest. These self-care strategies are ways to heal those overwhelming feelings.

      Use these self-care strategies for emotional self care.

      Self Care Balance

      The thing is that as occupational therapy providers, we KNOW the need for balance. The occupational balance of work/play/rest is very much a service to ourselves and a fine line that must be honored. We recognize the need to set realistic expectations for ourselves.

      We know the power that limitations in self care has when combined with work demands, income concerns, and health and safety of ourselves and those we love. But, HOW is that self care balance and a healthy lifestyle possible during uncertain times?

      Pour yourself a cup of tea or grab yourself a hot mug of coffee. Curl up with a cozy blanket or sit in the outdoors as you read this, friends.

      Here are self care strategies that will serve you well as therapists or health care professionals.

      Self care strategies

      Self Care Strategies

      Using self care methods as a healthcare provider offers an opportunity to promote your own well-being in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle so that you are capable of serving those in need. Sometimes it’s good to turn your well-tuned “OT lens” on yourself, right?

      Try these strategies for emotional self care and physical self care needs. Some ideas may work for some, but not others. Others may find just the coping tool needed to find peace or a sense of occupational balance during uncertain times.

      Mindfulness Strategies– Meditation or mindfulness practice on a regular basis offers a time for respite in daily schedules. Mindfulness is a great tool for boosting mental health. By intentionally being mindfully aware in situations, you can focus on the current situation by being present.

      Sensory Diet– As therapists, creating sensory diets is second nature. But, when the feelings of stress and burnout occur, what if we turned out therapy hat onto ourselves by using those very sensory tools as coping strategies? Here is an explanation of what a sensory diet is to get you started. Think outside of the box when it comes to identifying needs.

      You may not be experiencing the typical signs of sensory distress, but worries, sadness, or emotional fluctuations can be a change from the norm that are impacted by a few sensory tools. Here are tools for creating a sensory diet that works for you.

      Turn off the News (or Facebook!)- We talk a lot about screen time for kids, but adult screen free time is important, too! Giving your brain a rest on what other’s think or see is a way to give your mental health priority.

      When everyone’s got an opinion (and it’s not at all encouraging, hopeful, or helpful…) all of that information can man overload in your brain that builds the stress levels.

      Give yourself permission to social distance from and social media.

      Journaling– Using a journal to self-reflect is a means of taking time to think through thoughts and emotions. By writing out problems, one can reflect on possible solutions and problem solve ways to address concerns. Your journal is a place to be kind to yourself. Use it well!

      This self-reflection journal for therapists is a good way to keep track of your thoughts, progress, and work during this unprecedented time in history.

      Yoga/Exercise- Schedule time in your day for some exercise, whether that be a 10 minute walk, yoga stretches in the morning, or a full exercise routine. Take a walk after work or at the end of the day, or do a quick YouTube video to get the blood moving.

      Physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise has been show to improve regulation, emotions, and mood. For the busy therapist, a treadmill workout that fits into everyday schedules is the way to go.

      This is the time that I love to run along to music, podcasts, and even Netflix when running on the treadmill. Can you pair a HIIT treadmill workout with an OT podcast or fun movie?

      Self-Reflect- Take a good look at this whole situation. When you step back for a moment, it’s pretty darn surreal, right? We are in the middle of a very fascinating yet scary experiment in social awareness, communication, emotions, health, and everything about modern life! We as therapy providers teach kids about self reflection.

      We instruct clients of all ages about tools and strategies to self-reflect for awareness into specific occupations so they can thrive.

      Take just a few minutes to create a self care assessment of how you are responding to current situations. How can you use that information to come up with a plan?

      Can you take a minute for personal self-reflection, and come up with a few coping strategies that will work for your situation? Think about what you would say to a client in the same situation.

      Sleep in- Saturdays used to be full of kids’ sports, running to the market, appointments, events, visiting, errands, and all sorts of tasks, right? Use the slower days to give yourself a dose of rest. Sleep in an hour. Or as late as the kids allow. If sleeping in is a no-go, try an afternoon nap when the kids nap or hit the hay an hour or two earlier.

      Focus on Efficient Sleep- At the very least, aim for effective sleep. Turn off the screens right before bed. Use a fan or white noise. Add light reducing curtains. Open a window for a cooler sleeping environment. Layer on a heavy blanket or weighted blanket for added proprioceptive input. Reduce caffeine in your diet. Sleep is good and good sleep is better.

      Drink Water- Be sure you are drinking enough water. Schedule an alarm on your phone if needed.

      Go Outside- Just sitting outside or being outdoors can make a difference. Breathe the fresh air, notice the birds, chat with the neighbors. Be mindful of your surroundings and notice your senses and how the air smells, the breeze feels, focus on the warmth of the sun, and the sounds around you.

      Read a book- Spending a few minutes in another world can take your mind off things. Don’t have the energy to read? Try a podcast or audio book.

      Turn off Notifications- Constantly being available wears on a person. With working from home, it’s possible that work hours run into the evening. Turn off the message and email notifications to give yourself a break.

      Advocate for Yourself- When things build up, emotions can run deep. This article on AOTA offers some advice for self-advocating to address emotional, physical, or cognitive needs. We teach our clients about self-advocacy. Use those tools on yourself, too!

      Set realistic expectations- Just because you don’t have the regular commute to work and now supposedly now have all of this time on your hands, you don’t need to try a new hobby, learn to cook, keep the house clean, teach the kids, maintain a schedule of 15 teletherapy sessions a day, and start running.

      Give yourself flexibility and maintain realistic expectations for the time that you have during a day. Consider you personal tasks, abilities, and limitations. Give yourself some leeway. You don’t need to get it all done plus take on more.

      Gratitude- Identifying things that you are thankful for has been shown to impact anxiety, depression, and worries. Write down one thing that you are thankful for each day. Use the time right before bed to identify one thing that happened during the day that you are grateful for. That simple thought of positivity can be very impact.

      Deep Breathing- Deep breathing exercises aren’t just for the kids! Deep breathing is a tool for all ages. Deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth activates the regulatory system and offers a means for better for rest and digestion, by impacting the parasympathetic nervous system.

      Phone a Friend- Talking to a friend or family member is one way to work through problems. Practice well-being by talking with someone who cares

      Listen to a Podcast- Try a self-help podcast, a mindfulness podcast,

      Focus on Executive Functioning Skills- As therapy providers, we know the power of tweaking a few executive functioning skill areas. Procrastination, time management, and breaking down tasks can be a game changer in achieving goals and getting things done. When you just don’t feel like moving, a few executive functioning tricks can be the ticket to effective use of time.

      Still need more ideas to cope with difficulties as a therapy provider? Try to add just one or two of these self-care strategies into your daily tasks. Put some tasks aside (like chores that can wait until the weekend) and focusing on the most important items that need accomplished in the day. These tips for attention and focus can help.

      They are the same strategies that we recommend to our clients, so using them for our own lives should be easy, right? We as occupational therapists are masters of adaption!

      Use these self care strategies to cope with challenges in work.

      psychological self care

      An important component of all of the self-care strategies listed in this post is the psychological self care aspect.

      By the term “psychological self care” we are referring to the specific actions and practices that we as therapy providers can engage in as a tool to support our mental and emotional well-being.

      This means that we, as OT professionals, take care of our psychological needs, knowing that stressors impact our ability to manage stress, engage with others with empathy, and function in day to day tasks. When we have the appropriate tools to support mental health, we can be proactive and intentional about setting boundaries.

      Not only is the emotional aspect of self-care a form of self-awareness and self-compassion, but it builds resilience in ourselves. Having coping mechanisms, stress relievers (like taking a minute to do relaxation breathing even during a busy day) supports social, emotional, and mental health needs.

      All of these tools are strategies we have in our therapy toolbox as professionals, but sometimes, pulling out the correct resources for ourselves is more difficult than supporting our clients.

      Taking care of our psychological needs is an important part of therapy self-care and promotes mental health.

      Affiliate links are included in this post, but I only recommend products that I own, and love!

      Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

      Breathing Star


      This breathing star coloring page is perfect for Christmas Mindfulness and winter mindfulness activities…but today, we’ve got star breathing tool for you.

      Discussing mindfulness for kids is a powerful strategy in addressing so many needs. Kids with sensory processing needs or self-regulation needs, or even emotional regulation needs may benefit from this holiday awareness activity.

      Breathing Star

      First, let’s talk about what a breathing star is.

      A breathing star is a visual prompt that allows kids to follow a star design with their eyes or fingers to guide mindful and deep breathing. The breathing star can be a variety of shapes or forms, but the benefits are the same.

      A breathing star might include:

      • A breathing star drawn on paper while doodling
      • A printable star coloring page like the one below
      • A star with arrows that a user can follow with deep breaths
      • This Star of David deep breathing tool

      It’s a free printable Christmas coloring page with benefits! Scroll below to grab your printable page.


      This mindfulness tool goes along well with our wreath breathing exercise,  Pumpkin deep breathing exercise, and Thanksgiving mindfulness activity.

      what does mindfulness for kids mean?

      Why Use a Breathing Star?

      First, let’s talk about what mindfulness means. Mindfulness in children is the ability to be aware of one’s actions and self in the moment. 

      Mindfulness for kids is an important part of self regulation and the ability to regulate our senses, feelings, and body.

      Consideration of well-being is important in addressing occupations across environments. OT practitioners can address mindfulness as a means for improving regulation, self-efficiency, stress, anxiety, trauma exposure, or other issues the child may face. Some mindfulness strategies for kids include breath awareness, body sweep, and labeling of feelings.

      One such mindfulness tool for children includes deep breathing. Combining this with stress-reducing coloring or focused activity can be a means for helping kids to become aware of how their body is responding to outside input or stressors.

      You’ve probably seen the variety of coloring books out there designed as coping tools for stress or anxiety. These can be a way to teach kids about focused awareness and mindfulness in the moment.

      It allows us to focus on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting what’s happening on the inside: in our feelings, thoughts, or sensations. This can be a tough skill for kids to master and why a breathing star can support that need.

      For kids, mindfulness is a skill that allows them to be aware of their body and how it’s responding in the moment. Mindfulness for kids is important for them to have the ability to pay attention and responding to input from the world around us.

      Mindfulness in kids means noticing their body and the things happening around them. It has a lot to do with impulse control. Just like any other skill, mindfulness is an ability that develops over time.

      It’s easy to see how this skill relates to so many other areas that occupational therapists address: self-regulation, self-confidence, attention, social-emotional skills, coping skills, sensory processing, impulsivity and inhibition, and overall well being.

      Also be sure to check out these Mindfulness for Kids YouTube Videos.

      How to Use a Breathing Star Visual Support

      A tool like this self regulation star is easy to use:

      1. Start with a pointer finger pointing at any of the points on the star.
      2. Take a deep breath in as the finger traces along the arrow.
      3. When you reach one of the points of the star, pause and hold your breath.
      4. Then, trace along the arrow to the next point as you breathe out.
      5. When you reach the next point of the star, your lungs will be empty. Pause and hold your breath with empty lungs.
      6. Continue as you trace along the outer edge of the star, pausing to hold your breath at each point.

      How Does a Breathing Star Work?

      The best thing about the printable breathing star is that it is a visual cue that can be used in any situation or no matter the environment.

      We cover how a printable tool like this sensory breath star can support a variety of needs in our resource on breathing exercises.

      The benefit of the breathing star is the pause points at the end of each star’s point. This pause point allows for breath control. As the breath is held after filling the lungs or emptying the lungs, the lungs continue to expand as does the rib cage. This offers interoceptive awareness as heavy work fills the chest area.

      We cover this sensory strategy in our resource on relaxation breathing.

      Occupational therapy practitioners working with children are interested in the well-being and the whole child. Functioning and independence in daily occupations are impacted by the “whole child”. The breathing sensory star offers the tool to support these needs.

      Christmas star mindfulness for kids activity and coping strategy for deep breathing and awareness.

      Below is a free printable coloring page for holiday mindfulness. Pair this with our Christmas Mindfulness coloring page for a mindfulness exercise for kids.

      Get a Christmas Star Mindfulness Coloring Page

        We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.
        Powered By ConvertKit

        Thanksgiving Mindfulness Activity

        Turkey exercise for a mindful thanksgiving

        Having a mindful Thanksgiving is so important, but have you ever considered HOW to achieve Thanksgiving mindfulness during a time when abundance is everywhere? Today, we have a few tips on holiday mindfulness, but also a great turkey exercise. This Thanksgiving deep breathing exercise is a tool to use when the overwhelming feelings of a big holiday event can overcome emotions and behaviors. Add this turkey activity to your Thanksgiving occupational therapy plans.

        Thanksgiving Mindfulness

        This time of year, being mindful is a huge part of the gratitude of Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving Mindfulness activity doubles as a deep breathing coping strategy but also is helpful in teaching kids to be mindful during a time of year when the holidays can get the best of them.

        A few weeks ago, you may have seen a Pumpkin deep breathing exercise on The OT Toolbox. This mindfulness strategy is inline with that coping tool. Use it to talk to the kids about mindfulness or as a sensory strategy.

        You can also use this activity along with our Thanksgiving tree to work on mindset and gratitude.

        Thanksgiving mindfulness activity with deep breathing exercise to use as a coping strategy with kids.

        During the time of year when signs of a feast is everywhere (from a family get together to a feast in the classroom), it can be easy to become overwhelmed by tensions, boundaries of others, and even the over-abundance.

        For our kiddos with sensory needs, we see this play out in emotions, behavioral meltdowns, and sensory regulation needs.  

        However, for ALL of us, sometimes having an open mind and mindful strategies can support a complex season. 

        Mindfulness for kids can be a creative way to address common concerns with attention, self-regulation, self-awareness, coping skills, and concentration.

        Mindfulness activities can be a way for kids to be more present in the moment, and more aware of themselves in every situation, including in the home, in the classroom, and while performing everyday activities.

        With the turkey exercise below, we use a few areas of mindful attention:

        • Deep breathing
        • Coloring (if using the coloring page)

        Deep breathing exercises can improve a child’s attention, emotional regulation through mindful attention to Breath Control

        Breathing exercises are a coping tool to support relaxation by attentive breathing. When focused breathing occurs with breath control to inhale a deep, diaphragmatic breathing strategy, and then held for a moment to hold the breath at full capacity, there are many calming benefits, which can slow a racing mind. This relaxation breathing is a breath control mechanism.

        Mindfulness Strategies for Big Holidays

        There are many ways to incorporate mindfulness into holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas. You can still honor the spirit of Thanksgiving or other big holidays even when overwhelm and a racing mind are at play.

        Here are some of our favorite mindfulness tools for holidays:

        • Fun Mindfulness activities for kids–  creative mindfulness exercises that can help kids feel better, reduce stress, address anxiety, and have a greater awareness of their body and mind. Mindfulness activities for kids can be used as a self-regulation tool or a coping strategy. 
        • Go for a quick walk to add movement, heavy work through the body, and the opportunity to take a few deep breaths.
        • Make a list of things you are grateful for. Use that gratitude to pray, give thanks, or use in gratitude meditation.
        • Talk about gratitude with kids. This Bear Says Thanks activity is a great hands-on activity for this lesson.
        • Take a walk in nature and practice gratitude while walking
        • Talk about gratitude. You don’t need to save thankfulness for the Thanksgiving table. Talk about the things you are thankful for each day.
        • Consider mindful eating during big meals or family meals.
        • Winter Theme Mindfulness Activities–  Use these tips for mindfulness in the classroom and creative mindfulness exercises with a winter theme. 
        • Mindfulness Videos on YouTube– Use these YouTube videos to help kids pay attention and responding to input from the world around us, including emotionally and cognitively. 
        • Make gratitude and mindfulness a habit. 
        • Adding a quick morning meditation can help with overall wellbeing.
        • Hug your friends and family. Did you know there are benefits to giving and receiving hugs? Not only do they offer proprioceptive input through deep pressure, but they can be very calming.

        Turkey Exercise for Mindfulness

        This mindfulness activity is a fun one for kids this time of year. Like our pumpkin deep breathing exercise, we used a visual graphic of a turkey paired with directions to breathe deeply as a sensory coping strategy. Use the turkey deep breathing activity to teach kids mindfulness and awareness.

        Use the printable along with these free Thankful Turkey Templates for hands-on play.

        What better activity is there for Thanksgiving and the season of gratitude?

        • Kids can use this Thanksgiving mindfulness activity to wind down after a busy day, cope with sensory overload, and be more aware of things they can express gratitude for.
        • Use the printable turkey exercise as a breathing tool during the chaos of a family dinner.
        • Use this Thanksgiving themed mindfulness tool to address sensory issues such as sensory overload. It’s a great way to add a mini-sensory break into busy days filled with family and festivities. Simply taking a few moments to add deep breathing exercises can help with feelings of overwhelming sensory overload and add the calming moment a child might need.
        • It works for kids of all ages, too…take a few moments with your kiddos to step back, breathe deeply, and express gratitude or awareness.

        It’s a great way to introduce mindfulness to children with a visual representation of the deep breathing strategy and awareness of the world around them.

        Ok, so how does this work? Let’s try this mindfulness meditation task!

        How to Use this Turkey Exercise for Mindfulness

        Print off the turkey exercise by entering your email address into the form below. This resource is also available in our OT Toolbox Member’s Club, on the Thanksgiving Therapy Theme page.

        1. Use the visual graphic to follow the arrows as you take deep breaths in and out.
        2. Pair the deep breathing with thoughts of things that you are thankful for with each breath.
        3. For each feather on the turkey, you will concentrate on one thing, person, or aspect that you are thankful for. Maybe it’s a warm house. Maybe you are thankful for the sun shining outside. Maybe it’s a frantic house filled with family and friends. Maybe it’s a job that pays the bills.

        Thinking about whatever it is that you are grateful for is a simple way to pair the benefits of slow deep breaths with intentional thoughts.

        Use the Thanksgiving mindfulness with kids as a group or individually. You can set this up in several ways. Ask them fist to list out some things they are thankful for. Then, quietly say an item with each breath break.

        Use the Turkey Deep Breathing Exercise in a Group

        This exercise is a great addition to group gratitude activities.

        As a mindfulness group activity, use the turkey graphic and explain that they will be pairing deep breathing with a focus on gratitude. Come up with a list of things the group is thankful for and as you work through he deep breathing exercise, the children in the group can focus on things that they are thankful for personally.

        Or, you could invite the child to think in their head about some things they are thankful for and then with each breath in, they intentionally concentrate on that thing/person/idea.

        Adding the deep breathing exercise with intentional thoughts makes this a Thanksgiving Mindfulness activity that can be so helpful for kids (and adults) of all ages!

        Thanksgiving mindfulness activity for kids

        Thanksgiving Exercise for Deep Breathing

        When focusing on gratitude and mindfulness during the Thanksgiving holiday, having an exercise with a turkey theme is a fun way to support self-regulation needs.

        If you include this Thanksgiving exercise with gratitude and mindful breathing, it’s a great sensory tool, especially when worries or overthinking is happening. Gratitude and mindfulness can be powerful coping tools for anxiety by helping individuals shift their focus from negative thoughts and worries to more positive and present-moment experiences.

        Pair this Thanksgiving exercise with gratitude by asking the user to think of things they are thankful for as they complete each breathing exercise.

        This can help the user because mindful breathing and gratitude helps us to be present in the moment, promotes relaxation, and supports emotional regulation.

        Free Thanksgiving Mindfulness Exercise

        You can print off a version of this turkey exercise deep breathing tool. Enter your email address into the form below. The OT Toolbox Member’s Club members can access this resource inside our Member’s Club on the Thanksgiving Therapy Theme page.

        Free Thanksgiving Mindfulness Turkey Exercise

          Are you interested in resources on (check all that apply):
          We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

          Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

          Forest Sensory Path

          forest sensory path

          If taking a break is a must, but getting outside is tricky, then this Forest Sensory Path hits the mark! We’ve created another fun printable to our collection of free sensory paths with all of the calming benefits of nature and being in the woods. This printable forest sensory walk is perfect for bringing the calming input of nature into the indoors. Be sure to read this resource on sensory nature walks to read up on those calming and organizing self-regulation benefits of woods and nature.

          Forest sensory path printables

          Forest Sensory Path

          It seems life is getting more chaotic since the pandemic.  This may stem from isolation, lack of exposure, too much electronic use, stressors, or a sudden thrust back into “real life”.  Compounding this is the fact that learners do not know how to combat these environmental stressors, or self regulate.  It seems learners need instruction on how to take a break. That’s where these Forest Themed Sensory Path stations come in, which provide a structured sensory break, to help reorganize thoughts and body.

          Sensory paths and sensory stations became popular with the addition of expensive stickers set up around the school. These are awesome as a self-regulation activity and to address mindfulness with kids!  If you don’t have the budget or space for these custom stickers, try one of the sensory walk stations offered by the OT Toolbox.

          This month the Forest Sensory Path will fit in perfectly with your fall leaves occupational therapy theme.  Add your email below to be sent this FREE download.

          How does the FOrest sensory path work?

          Sensory activities like this Forest Sensory Walk Station offer tasks to promote body and mind regulation.  The initial response to a learner out of sync is to tell them to calm down. 

          What does “calm down” mean to you?  Adults generally have already figured out appropriate strategies to reduce anxiety, inducing a feeling of calm. 

          Children have no idea what “calm” looks like, because they rarely act this way.  They also lack the ability to calm themselves, or know what to do to slow their body/brain down. Having a strategy, movement, or action to stop, self-analyze, breathe for a moment, and take a break from the environmental or internal input, is a literal break for the brain and body. This is where we get the term brain breaks!

          Sensory stations provide the framework for self regulation.

          Printable Sensory Path: Forest Theme

          This Forest Sensory path combines deep breathing and proprioceptive input with eight different activities.  Proprioceptive exercise is a “go to” input for organizing the sensory processing system and regulating the sensory systems.

          It is alerting for those who are experiencing low arousal, and calming for those who seek additional input to get regulated.

          Connected to proprioception and interoception, deep breathing exercises slow the central nervous system, often elevated during periods of fight or flight responses. 

          The ultimate goal of sensory regulation is self-regulation.  Learners need to understand what strategies work for them, and when they are needed.  Sensory strategies are unique to each learner. 

          Just as adults have different routines they use for concentration and focus, children develop varied strategies. 

          Imagine the additional responsibility teachers take on remembering and learning  the sensory needs of each of their students. 

          When a student can advocate for themselves, this not only helps the student, but their caregivers as well.

          How to use the Forest Sensory Paths?

          • Lowest level learners need to be taken through the walk step by step
          • Middle level learners can be supervised while participating
          • Higher level learners will be able to complete this activity when instructed, or advocate for a sensory break
          • Laminate the page for reusability. This saves on resources.  Caregivers or young learners can help decorate these pages before they are laminated. 
          • Make this part of a larger lesson plan including gross motor, sensory, social, executive function, or other fine motor skills
          • Print in black and white, in color, or on colored paper for different levels of difficulty
          • Project this page onto a smart board for students to learn these activities as a group
          • More or less prompting may be needed to grade the activity to make it easier or harder.
          • Learners can explore other ways they could use this activity 
          • Explore different options for setting up this sensory station.  It could be appropriate in a classroom, hallway, gymnasium, outside the school, or walking into the cafeteria, depending on the needs of your learners

          sensory paths for elementary schools

          Some of the big budget sensory paths are thousands of dollars and require permanent installation over laminate floors. In many cases, getting approval for the purchase of a sensory path in an elementary school is just out of the question.

          The good news is that our printable sensory paths are totally free, AND you can print off the pages and switch out the themes according to the season.

          The other benefit that most therapist users see is that the printable pages can be positioned and placed according to the environment. These sensory path pages can be placed in a page protector sleeve and hung in a hallway. Or they can be laminated and placed in a calm down corner. The options are pretty limitless.

          A few other common questions about using the Forest sensory path in elementary schools or in therapy clinics can include:

          • Do sensory paths work for all learners?  No.  Sensory strategies are not one size fits all unfortunately.  Much of the treatment relies on trial and error.  If the forest sensory stations walk does not calm your learner, it is possible the treatment came too late, after the learner was already shut down.  Some learners are not able to self regulate through all parts of the sensory stations, however it is a great and simple activity for those who do.
          • How long should my learner use a sensory path?  There is no defined time frame for any self regulation strategies.  Some learners calm quickly, needing a diversion from their current state in order to regulate.  Other learners may take several minutes to calm after an upset.  Watch for signs of regulation and calming before suggesting your learner stops.  After the Forest Sensory Station Walk, take note of how long your learner is able to stay regulated.
          • How often should I use a sensory path?  Some learners need a boost of sensory regulation every twenty minutes, while others can go several hours before they need a moment to reset.  Watch for signs of disorganization and jump in with strategies before meltdown occurs.
          • Will a sensory path work consistently every time? Probably not. This worked last week, but not this week.  What happened?  Sensory strategies are not an exact science. Have a large “bag of tricks” in your toolbox to be able to offer several different strategies. 
          • How long will the effects of a sensory path last?  Every learner is different.  A very dysregulated learner may need almost constant strategies for self regulation.  A learner who is more organized and has been practicing strategies for a while, might reap the benefits of this sensory stations for two hours.  A great sensory workout can have long lasting effects.
          • Are sensory paths and sensory stations an evidenced based practice?  Because of the nature of sensory dysregulation and the strategies offered, it is very difficult to get consistent data in this area.  Use your clinical judgment and observations to determine how effective this Forest Themed Sensory Stations Walk is.

          Other Resources from the OT Toolbox

          Free Printable Forest Sensory Path

          Want to add a forest themed sensory path to your therapy toolbox? Enter your email address into the form below. This resource is also available inside The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Members can log into their account and access this resource in the Forest Animals Therapy Theme area. Not a member of The OT Toolbox Member’s Club? Join us!

          Free Forest Printable Sensory Path

            We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

            Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

            The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory processing information, each step of creating a meaningful and motivating sensory diet, that is guided by the individual’s personal interests and preferences.

            The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is not just about creating a sensory diet to meet sensory processing needs. This handbook is your key to creating an active and thriving lifestyle based on a deep understanding of sensory processing.

            The Power of Yet

            The power of yet

            Do you focus on the “power of yet” when helping kids with developing a growth mindset? A subtle mindset shift can do great things when it comes to shifting perspectives. Here, we’re covering what the power of yet means and how to help kids use this strategy in every day tasks with a printable power of yet worksheet.

            The Power of Yet activities

            The power of yet

            When we make a decision to learn new things, we are fostering the power of yet.

            When we struggle at a task but persist and keep trying, we are putting the power of yet to work.

            When we look forward to doing something, we exercise hope and optimism.

            All of these examples describe the power of yet!

            The power of yet starts with a growth mindset. A growth mindset is “the understanding that abilities and understanding can be developed” (Mindset Works, n.d.).

            Those with a growth mindset believe that they can get smarter, stronger, and more talented through putting in time and effort.

            According to Susan Jerrell, founder of Time out for Teachers,

            The power of yet teaches students:

            • they can learn
            • learning takes time and effort
            • results come from hard work
            • giving up isn’t an option 

            the power of yet carol dweck

            This way of thinking became popular through the work of Carol Dweck in her book (Amazon affiliate link) Mindset.  She teaches about the “power of yet.”

            This mindset shifts the focus away from all the things one can not do, to what one can not do YET.  As therapists, the population we serve is acutely aware of all the things they can not do.  It is easy to get bogged down by shortcomings and endless goal setting. This can be discouraging, and lead to shutdown or failure.

            When developing this growth mindset and encouraging the power of yet, be mindful of the four traps to success

            • People don’t set clear goals (and don’t break down goals to achieve them)
            • They feel discouraged
            • They feel overwhelmed
            • They are not ready to change

            Ask yourself, is my learner ready to change?  Is this a goal I want for them, or they want for themselves?  This might also be a good question to ask of the parents.  Are THEY ready for change? 

            Is it worth all your time and effort to teach your learner to fold laundry, if the parents are just going to do it themselves?  Should you problem solve and set endless goals to get your learner out of their parent’s bed, if the parents are really not ready for this change?

            Young people may not care about change, or the work entailed in growing may not seem worth all of the effort.  In this case, you will need to get creative if this change is important to their growth. 

            Shoe tying is a great example.  This is an important skill, however try telling that to a six year old who just loves his Crocs!  In this case, some creative goal setting, and a great incentive at the end might help nudge them along. 

            Power of Yet Activities

            Goal setting IS important, however it is crucial to go about it the right way, or this too will end in failure. The OT Toolbox has some great posts about Goal Setting and Goal Ladders

            Check out this cute video from Sesame Street with Janelle Monae singing about this “power of yet”.  This is a great tool to share with young learners about embracing change, and being able to learn new things.   

            Courtney Ackerman of Psychology Today gives the following tips to teaching the power of yet:

            • Work on your own growth mindset first. It is difficult to teach the power of yet 
            • Go beyond the “mindset jargon” and inspirational quotes to really focus on what the power of yet means
            • Praise properly, focusing on their efforts rather than shortcomings or natural talent
            • Embrace the word “yet;” use the word “yet” with children to give them a sense they can make a change
            • Take advantage of mistakes children make; be ready to praise them for their efforts but also point out any issues in their approach and brainstorm better ways to handle the situation with them
            • Let kids fail; another vital part of growth in children is to let them fail instead of showing them how to do everything or saving them from making mistakes. This is part of growth mindset mistakes.

            Free Power of yet worksheet

            Today’s free printable worksheet teaches learners to embrace what already makes them awesome, along with recognizing the power of yet.  I am not able to ride a unicycle YET.  I can not speak fluent Spanish YET.  I am awesome at riding a two wheeled bike, and can speak moderate Spanish.  

            Harness the power of yet, set attainable goals, embrace skills along with shortcomings.  Use the power of yet printable to brainstorm goals, focus on awesomeness, and develop a plan for growth. From a treatment planning objective, this task goes beyond just introspection and planning for the future.

            Use this letter to future self printable as a tool to support goal development and planning for the future and development tool to achieve goals that have not yet been achieved.

            Think of the other skills that can be addressed during this activity:

            • Social/Executive Function – Following directions, turn taking, task completion, orienting to details, neatness, multi-tasking, attending to task, and impulse control
            • Handwriting- Letter formation – correctly forming the letters top to bottom.
            • Letter sizing – correctly fitting the letters into the provided space. Spacing, line placement, directionality, and spelling are also addressed
            • Fine motor skills- strengthening, hand development, and grasping pattern
            • Scissor skills- Cutting on the line ( if you choose to add this step), within half inch of lines, in the direction of lines
            • Bilateral coordination – remembering to use their “helper hand” to hold the paper while writing.  Using one hand for a dominant hand instead of switching back and forth is encouraged once a child is in grade school or demonstrates a significant strength in one or the other.
            • Strength – core strength, shoulder and wrist stability, head control, balance, and hand strength are all needed for upright sitting posture and writing tasks.
            • Social function – working together in a group, problem solving, sharing materials and space, turn taking, talking about the activity

            How do I grade this Power of Yet activity?

            When I use the word “grade,” I mean make it easier or harder, not give it a letter grade or score it.

            • Lowest level learners can dictate what they would like written
            • Middle level learners can write one or two words about their awesomeness and goals
            • Higher level learners can write an idea about their goals, then create a goal ladder, checklist, or graphic organizer.  This turns into a multilevel activity to use during many sessions.  
            • Talk about the the power of yet, growth mindset, setting goals, and introspection/self reflection
            • Project this page onto a smart board to work as a group
            • More or less prompting may be needed to grade the activity to make it easier or harder.
            • Make lines within the larger boxes to provide borders and boundaries to write in. Many learners struggle to write legibly in a large box

            Growth mindset is interesting in that some people feel they are flawed and will forever need work, while others believe they are perfect just the way they are. Try and find that balance between the self defeated attitude and the “I am perfect” belief. We all have room to grow and new things to learn. 

            A therapist I worked with for many years did not say, “practice makes perfect” as things are never perfect.  Instead she would say, “practice makes better.”  

            This resource is also available inside the Member’s Club.

            Want to add this resource to your therapy toolbox so you can help kids thrive? Enter your email into the form below to access this printable tool.

            This resource is just one of the many tools available in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Each month, members get instant access to downloadable activities, handouts, worksheets, and printable tools to support development. Members can log into their dashboard and access all of our free downloads in one place. Plus, you’ll find exclusive materials and premium level materials.

            Level 1 members gain instant access to all of the downloads available on the site, without enter your email each time PLUS exclusive new resources each month.

            Level 2 members get access to all of our downloads, exclusive new resources each month, PLUS additional, premium content each month: therapy kits, screening tools, games, therapy packets, and much more. AND, level 2 members get ad-free content across the entire OT Toolbox website.

            Join the Member’s Club today!

            Free Power of Yet Activity

              We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

              NOTE*The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for readability and inclusion. This information is relevant for students, patients, clients, preschoolers, kids/children of all ages and stages or whomever could benefit from these resources. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

              Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

              Self Regulation Strategies

              Self-regulation is a crucial skill that influences a child’s ability to manage emotions, behavior, and attention. As occupational therapy practitioners, professionals working with kids with emotional and behavioral needs, teachers, and parents, understanding effective strategies to support children in developing self-regulation skills is essential.

              This blog post explores evidence-based approaches for therapists working with children on their caseloads, offers insights for teachers in the classroom, and provides practical tips for parents to implement at home.

              image of a face breathing in and arrow pointing to the brain and the body

              What is a self regulation Strategy?

              Self-regulation strategies refer to techniques and behaviors individuals use to manage their own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in order to achieve specific goals or respond adaptively to different situations. These strategies empower individuals to stay focused, control impulses, and navigate challenges effectively.

              Developing self-regulation is often challenging for many children and even adults. Throughout the day, individuals face various situations demanding a keen awareness of themselves and others, coupled with the ability to exercise self-control.

              Self-regulation involves managing, sustaining, and adjusting one’s arousal levels, emotions, and behaviors. It hinges on impulse control, working memory, and the general capacity to keep oneself in check. The process of experiencing emotions, understanding desires, and making decisions based on these concepts necessitates motivation, willpower, and higher-level thinking.

              Ideally, children should attain an optimal level of self-awareness and mindfulness, enabling them to recognize their inner feelings and emotions. This awareness is crucial for effective self-regulation. Children must learn strategies and techniques tailored to their needs, aiding them in transitioning from a less optimal state to a readiness for action.

              Understanding how sensory processing impacts behaviors and emotions is key when it comes to sensory dysregulation and meltdowns or regulation needs.

              Read about interoception here. This is important because of the role of the limbic system, the vestibular system, proprioceptive system, and overall sensory processing systems in functional tasks.

              To support this process, additional mindfulness activities are beneficial, serving as valuable additions to a child’s “Regulation Toolbox.”

              Understanding Self-Regulation

              Before delving into strategies, it’s important to grasp the concept of self-regulation. According to Zelazo and Carlson (2012), self-regulation involves the ability to manage and modulate emotions, behaviors, and attention in response to environmental demands. This skill is fundamental for a child’s success in various life domains.

              Be sure to read about emotional regulation and behavioral regulation.

              Another key point to understand is the connection between executive functioning skills and emotional regulation.

              Self Regulation strategies for Therapy

              School-based occupational therapy professionals (OTs) play a crucial role in supporting students’ self-regulation and overall participation in their education.

              Their involvement extends beyond direct intervention with students to collaborating with teachers and other professionals, such as school social workers or guidance counselors. Here’s how school-based OTs contribute to the team:

              1. Assessment and Intervention for Individual Students:
                School-based OT assess students’ sensory and motor skills, identifying any challenges that may impact self-regulation and participation. Based on assessments, OTs/OTAs develop individualized intervention plans to address specific needs. Interventions may include sensory strategies, fine motor, gross motor coordination activities, and adaptive tools to support self-regulation in the classroom (Case-Smith et al., 2015). This can also look like using self awareness games and activities to support self-reflection skills when needed.
              2. Collaboration with Teachers:
                School-based occupational therapy professionals collaborate closely with teachers to integrate strategies that enhance self-regulation within the classroom environment. This collaboration may involve providing teachers with information about a student’s sensory needs, suggesting modifications to the classroom setup, and offering guidance on incorporating sensory breaks or activities that promote attention and focus (Morrison et al., 2020).
              3. Professional Development and Training:
                OT professionals contribute to the professional development of teachers and other school staff by offering training sessions on topics related to sensory processing, motor skills development, and self-regulation. This empowers educators with the knowledge and skills to implement supportive strategies for all students, not just those receiving direct OT services (Murray et al., 2016). Using programs such as Zones of Regulation, The Alert Program, (Amazon affiliate links) Test Drive, and The Sensory Connection.
              4. Consultation with School Staff:
                Collaboration between school-based occupational therapy professionals and paraprofessionals, educators, specials teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, etc. is essential to address the holistic needs of students. OT professionals can provide valuable insights into how sensory and motor difficulties may contribute to these challenges. Joint planning and consultation help create comprehensive support plans for students (Parham et al., 2011).
              5. Incorporating Sensory Strategies in the Classroom:
                OTs assist teachers and other professionals in integrating sensory strategies seamlessly into the classroom routine. This may involve providing sensory tools, creating sensory-friendly spaces such as a self regulation station or a calm down corner, or suggesting activities that promote self-regulation. By embedding these strategies into the daily routine, students can benefit consistently (Mulligan, 2018).
              6. Advocacy for Inclusive Environments:
                School-based OTs/OTAs advocate for inclusive practices that support the participation of all students. This includes working with teachers and administrators to create environments that are accessible and accommodating to diverse sensory and motor needs. Through advocacy, occupational therapy contributes to fostering an inclusive and supportive school culture (Polatajko et al., 2012).
              7. Data Collection and Progress Monitoring:
                OT professionals collaborate with teachers to collect data on the effectiveness of interventions and make data-driven decisions. Regular progress monitoring ensures that strategies are tailored to meet the evolving needs of students, and adjustments can be made as necessary (Case-Smith et al., 2015).
              8. Using a variety of calm down toys based on interest and motivation.

              Other ideas include:

              School-based OTs are integral members of the education team, contributing their expertise to create environments that facilitate self-regulation and maximize students’ participation in their education. Their collaboration with teachers and other professionals ensures a holistic and inclusive approach to supporting the diverse needs of students.

              Self Regulation Strategies for Teachers

              Self-regulation strategies are crucial in the classroom setting for several reasons, as they significantly impact a child’s academic and social development. Here are key reasons why implementing self-regulation strategies in the classroom is essential:

              1. Enhanced Learning Readiness:
                Self-regulation is closely linked to attention and focus. Children who can regulate their emotions and behaviors are better able to engage in learning activities. According to Blair and Diamond (2008), self-regulation supports cognitive functions, including working memory and flexible thinking, which are essential for academic success.
              2. Improved Classroom Behavior:
                Effective self-regulation strategies contribute to positive classroom behavior. When students can manage their emotions and impulses, disruptions are minimized, creating a more conducive learning environment for all. This aligns with the findings of Raver et al. (2011), who highlight the connection between self-regulation and behavioral outcomes in the classroom.
              3. Social Skills Development:
                Self-regulation is integral to the development of social skills. Children who can regulate their emotions are better equipped to navigate social interactions, resolve conflicts, and collaborate with peers. Gaining control over impulsive behaviors fosters positive relationships with teachers and classmates (Murray & Rosanbalm, 2017).
              4. Reduction of Stress and Anxiety:
                The classroom can be a source of stress for many students. Teaching self-regulation strategies helps children cope with stressors and anxiety, creating a more emotionally supportive learning environment. The work of Durlak et al. (2011) emphasizes the positive impact of social-emotional learning programs, which often include self-regulation components, on reducing stress in students.
              5. Long-Term Academic Success:
                Self-regulation skills cultivated in the classroom have long-term implications for academic success. Research by Moffitt et al. (2011) suggests that early self-regulation is a strong predictor of academic achievement and positive life outcomes in adulthood.
              6. Individualized Learning Support:
                Different students may require varying levels of support in developing self-regulation skills. Implementing strategies tailored to individual needs allows teachers to provide targeted support, fostering a more inclusive and effective learning environment (McClelland et al., 2010).
              7. Preparation for Life Skills:
                Beyond academic achievement, self-regulation is a life skill with broad applications. Teaching self-regulation in the classroom equips students with the tools they need to succeed not only academically but also in various aspects of life, including future employment and personal relationships (Jones et al., 2015).

              There are many ways to support these needs in the classroom setting.

              1. Classroom Environmental Modifications: Teachers can create a supportive environment by implementing sensory-friendly classroom modifications. This aligns with the findings of Dunn et al. (2016), emphasizing the impact of the environment on a child’s self-regulation.
              2. Visual Supports and Schedules: Utilizing visual supports and schedules helps children understand expectations and routines, promoting self-regulation (Smith et al., 2015). This can be particularly beneficial for children with neurodevelopmental disorders.
              3. Incorporating Movement Breaks: Research by Mahar et al. (2006) suggests that brief movement breaks during the school day can enhance attention and self-regulation. Teachers can integrate short physical activities to support students’ regulatory needs. Read about movement activities in the classroom for ideas.
              4. Sensory-Based Interventions: Occupational therapists can incorporate sensory-based interventions to help children regulate their emotions. Research by Case-Smith et al. (2015) highlights the effectiveness of sensory integration techniques in improving self-regulation in children. This can include fidget tools, brain breaks, etc.
              5. Mindfulness and Yoga: Introducing mindfulness and yoga practices in therapy sessions can positively impact self-regulation. The study by Felver et al. (2015) emphasizes the benefits of mindfulness interventions in reducing emotional reactivity and enhancing attention. This can also include deep breathing exercises, sensory paths, etc.
              6. Social Skills Training: Building social skills is crucial for self-regulation. Therapists can employ social skills training programs, as suggested by Gresham and Elliott (2008), to enhance a child’s ability to navigate social situations successfully.

              Self-regulation strategies are essential in the classroom setting to create an optimal learning environment, foster positive behavior and social skills, reduce stress, and lay the foundation for long-term academic success and life skills development.

              Self Regulation Strategies for Parents:

              Self-regulation is essential at home for various reasons, as it significantly influences a child’s overall well-being and development. Here are key reasons why self-regulation is crucial in a home setting:

              1. Emotional Well-Being: Self-regulation helps children manage their emotions effectively. At home, where a child experiences a range of emotions, from excitement to frustration, the ability to regulate these emotions contributes to a more positive and emotionally stable environment (Denham et al., 2012). This results in overall family wellness.
              2. Positive Social Interactions: Developing self-regulation skills enables children to navigate social interactions at home. It involves understanding and respecting others’ perspectives, turn taking, and resolving conflicts peacefully. These social skills foster positive relationships within the family and contribute to a harmonious home environment (Graziano et al., 2007).
              3. Academic Success: Self-regulation is not only crucial for emotional and social aspects but also for academic success. Children who can regulate their attention and focus are better equipped to engage in learning activities and complete homework tasks. This, in turn, supports their academic achievement (Blair & Diamond, 2008). Here are tips for fidgeting during homework.
              4. Independence and Responsibility: Self-regulation fosters independence and a sense of responsibility. Children who can manage their time, complete tasks independently, and make appropriate decisions are better prepared for the increasing responsibilities they face as they grow (Zelazo & Carlson, 2012).
              5. Healthy Lifestyle Habits: Self-regulation extends to health-related behaviors, such as eating habits and sleep routines. Children who can regulate their impulses are more likely to make healthy choices, contributing to their overall well-being (Riggs et al., 2010).
              6. Parent-Child Relationships: Self-regulation positively impacts parent-child relationships. When children can express their needs and emotions in a regulated manner, it fosters open communication and understanding between parents and children. This, in turn, strengthens the parent-child bond (Denham et al., 2012).
              7. Preparation for Life Skills: The self-regulation skills learned at home have broader implications for a child’s future. The ability to regulate emotions, manage stress, and make thoughtful decisions prepares children for success in various life domains, including relationships, education, and future employment (Moffitt et al., 2011).
              8. Reduced Stress and Anxiety: Home environments can sometimes be sources of stress for children. Self-regulation skills help children cope with stressors and anxiety, creating a more emotionally supportive and calming atmosphere at home (Durlak et al., 2011).

              Some strategies to support self regulation at home may include:

              1. Establishing Consistent Routines: Consistent routines at home contribute to a child’s sense of predictability, aiding in self-regulation (Fiese et al., 2002). Parents can create daily schedules that include predictable activities.
              2. Promoting Emotional Literacy: Parents play a crucial role in helping children identify and express emotions. The work of Denham et al. (2012) emphasizes the importance of promoting emotional literacy for better self-regulation outcomes. For more information, read about emotional intelligence. An activity like our lion and lamb emotions activity can help.
              3. Collaboration between Parents and Therapy Providers: Effective communication between parents and therapists is vital. Collaborative efforts, as recommended by Bundy et al. (2016), ensure a holistic approach to supporting a child’s self-regulation across different settings.

              Enhancing self-regulation in children requires a collaborative effort from therapists, teachers, and parents. By implementing evidence-based strategies tailored to each setting, we can empower children to develop essential skills for emotional and behavioral self-regulation

              The resources in the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook really go into detail on this concept, in using movement and sensory tools as regulation strategies and coping strategies help kids function, within their daily functional tasks. For example, it is possible to incorporate regulating activities within the classroom, home tasks like self-care or chores, and the community. Check out the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook for more information on this concept.

              Research on Self Regulation

              • Blair, C., & Diamond, A. (2008). Biological processes in prevention and intervention: The promotion of self-regulation as a means of preventing school failure. Development and Psychopathology, 20(3), 899-911.
              • Case-Smith, J., Weaver, L. L., & Fristad, M. A. (2015). A systematic review of sensory processing interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders. Autism, 19(2), 133-148.
              • Denham, S. A., Bassett, H. H., & Wyatt, T. (2010). The socialization of emotional competence. In Handbook of socialization (pp. 614-637). Guilford Press.
              • Dunn, W., Little, L., & Dean, E. (2016). Sensory processing in autism: A review of neurophysiologic findings. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 28(3), 272-282.
              • Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405-432.
              • Fiese, B. H., Tomcho, T. J., Douglas, M., Josephs, K., Poltrock, S., & Baker, T. (2002). A review of 50 years of research on naturally occurring family routines and rituals: Cause for celebration?. Journal of Family Psychology, 16(4), 381.
              • Felver, J. C., Celis-de Hoyos, C. E., Tezanos, K., & Singh, N. N. (2015). A systematic review of mindfulness interventions for youth in school settings. Mindfulness, 6(6), 1241-1256.
              • Gresham, F. M., & Elliott, S. N. (2008). Social skills improvement system. In Handbook of psychoeducational assessment (pp. 647-678). Guilford Press.
              • Graziano, P. A., Reavis, R. D., Keane, S. P., & Calkins, S. D. (2007). The role of emotion regulation in children’s early academic success. Journal of School Psychology, 45(1), 3-19.
              • Jones, S. M., Bailey, R., & Jacob, R. (2015). Social-emotional learning: From research to practice. Applied Psychology, 7(1), 62-79.
              • Mahar, M. T., Murphy, S. K., Rowe, D. A., Golden, J., Shields, A. T., & Raedeke, T. D. (2006). Effects of a classroom-based program on physical activity and on-task behavior. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 38(12), 2086-2094.
              • McClelland, M. M., Cameron, C. E., Duncan, R., Bowles, R. P., Acock, A. C., Miao, A., & Pratt, M. E. (2014). Predictors of early growth in academic achievement: The head-toes-knees-shoulders task. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 599.
              • Moffitt, T. E., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R. J., Harrington, H., & Caspi, A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(7), 2693-2698.
              • Morrison, J., Cosbey, J., George, N., & Thomas, J. (2020). Occupational therapy’s role in mental health promotion, prevention, & intervention with children & youth: A scoping review. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 36(1), 30-49.
              • Mulligan, S. (2018). Tools for the sensory connection program: A sensory processing disorder parent training. Academic Press.
              • Murray, D., & Bundy, A. (2016). Sensory integration: Theory and practice. F.A. Davis.
              • Murray, D. W., & Rosanbalm, K. (2017). Promoting self-regulation in the first five years: A practice brief. OPRE Report 2017-77. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
              • Parham, L. D., Coyne, L., & West, S. (2011). Sensory processing difficulties in children with functional constipation: A retrospective chart review. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65(4), 472-479.
              • Polatajko, H. J., Davis, J. A., & Marushak, J. P. (2012). Designing and implementing a model for delivering school-based occupational therapy services. OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health, 32(3_suppl), S3-S11.
              • Raver, C. C., Garner, P. W., & Smith-Donald, R. (2007). The roles of emotion regulation and emotion knowledge for children’s academic readiness: Are the links causal?. In Cognition and emotion (pp. 1-30). Psychology Press.
              • Riggs, N. R., Greenberg, M. T., Kusche, C. A., & Pentz, M. A. (2006). The mediational role of neurocognition in the behavioral outcomes of a social-emotional prevention program in elementary school students: Effects of the PATHS curriculum. Prevention Science, 7(1), 91-102.
              • Smith, C. J., Rozga, A., Matthews, N., Oberleitner, R., Nazneen, N., & Abowd, G. D. (2015). Investigating the accuracy of a novel gesture-based child-computer interaction system for classroom use. In Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children (pp. 252-255).
              • Zelazo, P. D., & Carlson, S. M. (2012). Hot and cool executive function in childhood and adolescence: Development and plasticity. Child Development Perspectives, 6(4), 354-360.

              For specific self regulation strategies related to each daily task that can be implemented right in the functional task, check out The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook.

              The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory processing information, each step of creating a meaningful and motivating sensory diet, that is guided by the individual’s personal interests and preferences.

              The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is not just about creating a sensory diet to meet sensory processing needs. This handbook is your key to creating an active and thriving lifestyle based on a deep understanding of sensory processing.

              Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

              What you Need to Know about Interoception

              interoception sensory information

              Interoception is a sensory term you may not have heard of before…but you have certainly felt or been impacted by the processing of our interoceptive sense! Internal feelings of hunger, fatigue, thirst, body temperature, digestion, and other internal systems offer a certain “feeling”, right? This is your interoception sensory system at work! Here, we’re covering everything you need to know about this complex sense, and taking a detailed look at how interoception impacts function.

              Interoception sensory input impact regulation, modulation, and function.

              Interoception The 8th sense

              Did you know that the five senses we were taught in school is not actually a complete list of a human’s senses? In fact, there are 7 or 8 senses that humans experience, depending on who you ask.

              Understanding our many senses helps us comprehend how we and others experience the world around us. For the sense we are highlighting today, it is how we understand what is going on inside of us. Check out this post on the OT Toolbox regarding Multisensory Learning: Emotion Activities.

              Definition of the interoception sense

              Interoception is the sense of oneself; it is the ability to understand the body’s physical signals that tell you when you are hungry or full, thirsty or quenched, hot or cold, scared or calm, etc.

              Interoception refers to the body’s ability to identify and process internal actions of the organs and systems inside the body. This lesser-known sensory system helps you understand and feel what’s going on inside your body. You can then make essential decisions about eating when you are hungry, drinking when you are thirsty, going into the restroom when you need to toilet, and other physical actions.

              There are nerves throughout the body that send these signals to the brain to help regulate the body, and promote homeostasis. 

              Some of these signals require a conscious act, like drinking water when we are thirsty, while others are non-conscious, like sweating when we are hot.

              Interoception comes into play when we consciously realize, “Oh, I am sweating because I feel hot, I should take off my jacket to cool down.” 

              Information on interoception, this blog post covers the definition of interoception, and interoception sensory strategies.

              How Does Interoception Impact Function? 

              Interoception can be thought of as a mind-body connection. Having a strong interoceptive sense would mean that you have a strong sense of the physical self, and what you need to promote comfort at any given time.

              Being able to confidently act on your body’s needs, makes everything a bit easier. You are likely able to make it to the bathroom before an accident, eat food before you feel light-headed, and stop eating before you feel sick. 

              But what about individuals who are not able to accurately process the bodies internal signals? They may find it more challenging to be potty trained, have a healthy diet, or emotionally regulate. 

              The ability to understand and respond to our body’s needs is a huge factor in our independence. If we don’t quite know what our bodies need, it makes everyday activities much more challenging, and focus on school or work tasks may dwindle. 

              Interoception even has to do with how our body moves, the action of bones in the skeleton, bone growth (growing pains have a lot of “pain” that is felt internally for kiddos who are rapidly growing! Be sure to check out this related blog on bone names to help tach kids about this concept.

              Functionally, interoception impacts so many areas of everyday tasks:

              • Eating
              • Drinking
              • Sleep
              • Toileting
              • Getting dressed (putting on temperature-appropriate clothing, or taking off clothing before becoming overheated)
              • So many more considerations!

              Interoception and Emotion 

              Interoception has a strong connection to emotional processing because of the physical way that we experience emotions. Our muscles clench when we are angry, quiver when we are scared, and relax when we are calm.

              Likewise, the stomach may feel upset when we are nervous, and one might get a headache from frustration. People with good interoception can relate these physical feelings to emotions. 

              If a person sensory processing differences, the signals from the body may not be accurately represented or relayed to the brain. They may be muddied or confusing, leading to a misunderstanding of what the body is trying to tell the brain. Because of this, a tickle may feel like pain, or a person may not know why they are experiencing discomfort. 

              Without interoception, labelling emotions is then a bit more challenging, as well as understanding how to remedy undesired feelings.

              Children may act out in aggression, cry or scream uncontrollably, or show other signs of sensory dysregulation, potentially due to a lack of interoception

              If you know a child who has multiple characteristics of reduced interoception, like potty accidents, over/under eating, and emotional dysregulation, they may benefit from therapeutic intervention to improve their body awareness. 

              The interoception system plays a part in feelings and emotions, too.

              When we feel anxious or worried, we might feel a tenseness about us. Our heart rate might speed up, and we feel that anxiety coursing through our systems.

              But for the child with difficulty expressing these feelings, they can’t tell us what they are feeling on the inside. They don’t have the words to identify specific interoceptive feelings they are having.

              Others might not recognize a racing heart. They might not realize that physical implication of anxiety or worry because they can’t actually feel their racing heart (when it is very much racing).

              When one feels anxious about a situation or an idea, we can help them to focus on their heart beat. We can help them take deep breaths to calm down. This focus on how their body is responding can help their internal state match the environment.

              Other ways to help with interoceptive identification include habit and routines to help us feel organized. When we know what to expect, we feel a lot more organized. The body is able to modulate better.

              As we increase the challenge, we have to also increase our supports. We can use some external organizational strategies (deep breaths, awareness, mindfulness, heavy work, routines) to help compensate for the lack of internal ability to organize ourselves.

              When we are disorganized, this is where we can fall apart. We have to be mindful ahead of time, and be accommodating and accepting of immature nervous systems, whether this is with our children, our spouse, or ourselves.

              Tips for Improving Interoception 

              There are all sorts of activities you can do with children to help increase their interoception skills. Below you will find tips for improving interoception, including mindfulness, and children’s books on topics like emotions, potty training, and problem solving. 

              • Modelling how you understand your bodies signals may also help – be sure to emphasize how you are feeling, and what you will do about it! 
              • Mindfulness – the act of intentionally connecting to oneself and/or the world around them. This can help an individual get “out of their head” and feel more grounded in the present moment. By doing so, it may improve self-awareness and a positive mood. Mindfulness is not just great for improving interoception – see this article for more information
                • This video guides a progressive muscle relaxation. Intentionally contracting and releasing muscles brings more awareness to the physical body, and deepens the connection that we feel to it.   
                • Here we have another video that guides mindfulness, in the form of a “body scan”. It also adds a great piece of education for children on what it means to understand their bodies signals, and why it is important. 
                • The OT Toolbox has this great list of more active ways to explore mindfulness through gross motor play
              • Focus on awareness- So often, parents, children, clients, educators, and even professionals are not aware of ALL of the ways that the interoceptive sense impacts everyday functioning, learning, and daily participation in everything one does throughout the day. Educate, educate, educate! Then, bring that awareness to a full circle with activities that take the concept of interoception in daily tasks home. For example, you can cover how sleep is impacted by interoception and incorporate a few of our hibernation activities. Without interoception, animals that hibernate would not instinctively know to fill up on foods before winter and to keep eating even when they may feel full. Then that sleep that allows them to slumber through the winter is in effect. It’s all related!
              • Try calm down toys Use a variety of supports in the form of play to support regulation needs. This can offer heavy work, regulating movement, or calming input.

              Books to Improve Interoception

              Below are Amazon affiliate links to resources and books on interoception and internal states.

              • We Listen to Our Bodies is a book that follows a young girl as she feels emotions through her day. The physical representations of emotions are highlighted in ways that are familiar to young children.
              • For a similar read pick up this book, that follows a boy and his day full of feelings at the zoo! 
              • Time to Pee by Mo Williams is a great book that helps kids understand how to respond when they have that ‘funny feeling’ in their tummies. 
              • I Feel… activity books have been praised by therapists for their ability to make learning mindfulness fun! The activity book linked here focuses on sickness in the body and what it feels like to be sick in different ways. 
              • The OT Toolbox has a great resource called the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook to tie sensory processing together
              • For more children’s books on mindfulness to elicit peace and calm, check out this resource:
              Sensory lifestyle handbook- How to create a sensory diet

              While interoception is new and lesser known, it is an important sense to have.

              Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
              background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
              providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
              a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.