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 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 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

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.

 

Mindfulness Audiobooks

mindfulness audiobooks

In this mindfulness resource, you’ll find recommendations for mindfulness audiobooks easily accessible for use right now. The term “mindful” literally means to be aware.  For example; be mindful of the speed bump in the road.  Understanding this, we can deduce that mindfulness has something to do with awareness.  The number of resources available such as mindfulness audiobooks, workbooks, YouTube Videos, and reference books available online is mind numbing.

Mindfulness audiobooks for children and adults

what is Mindfulness?

According to a post on mindful.com, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practice on a daily basis. Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful.

And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain.

This can be done through progressive relaxation exercises, dialectical behavioral therapy, meditation, calming strategies and more.

This workbook is fantastic for teens and adults to practice and learn mindfulness through dialectical behavioral therapy.

Mindfulness teaches about being in the present, aware of what is really happening around us. 

  • If you sit still for five minutes, what can you hear around you? 
  • What can you see? 
  • Can you sit quietly and just attend to your senses instead of your grocery list?

This is very difficult for many.  Imagine monks can do this for hours at a time.  Five minutes feels like an eternity to me.  Mindfulness is not just about meditating, it is about separating facts from feelings and emotions.  

separating facts from feelings

Separating facts from feelings does not mean feelings are not valid.  Sometimes our reactions to a situation are not in line with what happened, or we react with emotion instead of common sense. 

When a child screams in the grocery store and lies on the floor, learning to separate facts from emotions is a great tool for parents and the screamer.

First, examine the facts. 

  • Is the screamer bleeding or on fire? 
  • Did a huge dinosaur just bite his leg off,  or did you just say no cookies for the 15th time?

Once it has been determined no one is bleeding or on fire, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief.  The emotions are valid but perhaps overdone. Teaching the caregiver to take a breath and react based on facts versus emotion, is a great start, hence we are being mindful of what actually happened. 

This strategy can then be taught as a strategy to reduce screaming or behavioral responses to emotions.  

  • Teach the screamer to be aware of what is actually happening. 
  • No one has had their leg eaten off. 
  • They are in fact disappointed not to be getting a cookie this trip. 

Working on using words and deep breathing can be a valuable tool to thwarting meltdowns, or at least shortening their duration.

great Mindfulness audiobook resources

Amazon affiliate links are included below.

Amazon has some great mindfulness audiobook resources for parents and professionals available on Audible and other formats. Audiobooks are a great alternative to paper books, as they can be listened to almost anywhere.

There are tons of resources on mindfulness in audiobooks. I tried to find ones that had good reviews, were accurate and easy to read/listen to, and provided useful strategies.

If you are an Amazon Prime member, You’re eligible to claim 2 free titles from our entire selection (one title per month thereafter) with a free Audible 30 day trial. A standard trial includes 1 credit for an audiobook download. After the Audible trial period, all members receive 1 credit per month.

Click here start your free Audible Trial Period.

Practicing Mindfulness– Resource for incorporating mindfulness strategies within day to day life, adult resource

Meditations on Mindfulness with Pooh– educate kids on mindfulness strategies with Pooh bear

Self Regulation and Mindfulness for Sensory Processing, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorder– Includes mindfulness exercises and worksheets

Positive Ninja, A Children’s Book about Mindfulness.  Part of a ninja series– A children’s mindfulness resource on managing negative emotions and big feelings

Calm Ninja, A Children’s Book about Calming Your Anxiety. Part of ninja series– A children’s resource on calming anxiety and worries

The Mindful Dragon, a Dragon Book about Mindfulness. Part of a series– A children’s resource on mindful strategies with a dragon theme

Breathe Like a Bear– A children’s book on deep breathing and other mindful strategies

Think Like a Monk– Great for adults and informing older students, especially mindfulness in teens

the more principle

The current climate with excessive use of electronics and technology has stunted the ability to calm the mind, be still, focus on a singular item, or just sit and rest.  Life is filled with “more”. 

It is not enough just to watch tv, or drive, or talk on the phone.  Now these tasks are often paired with scrolling the phone, eating a meal, shopping online, or a whole host of other distractions.  People will call this multi-tasking, but really it is cluttering the mind, and decreasing the ability to be mindful, or calmly focused.

Can you remember a time when you could sit in a waiting room and calmly wait or people watch?  Not anymore.  It is difficult to sit and wait without a magazine in one hand and a phone in the other.  This is not good for anyone, especially the young developing brain.

The OT Toolbox has some great resources on mindfulness including activities, worksheets, and other tools. Mindfulness for Kids is an excellent post full of ideas and resources. Check out The Benefits of Mindfulness on the Toolbox for links to more great articles.

Love audiobooks? Don’t have time to read a book cover to cover? Check out this post on Audiobooks for Occupational Therapists.

Take a step back, teach caregivers to slow down, then pass this skill to young learners. Refrain from so much “multitasking”, and just be.

Victoria Wood

Victoria Wood, OTR/L 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.

Relaxation Breathing: a Powerful Tool

3 powerful relaxation breathing strategies

If you’ve been a reader of The OT Toolbox website for long, you’ve probably seen our many deep breathing exercises. But have you ever wondered about HOW relaxation breathing works physically? How does the body calm as a result of mindful breathing strategies? Let’s explore the science of what’s going on with this breathing tool…and try out a few powerful relaxation breathing strategies.

Relaxation breathing as a calming strategy for kids

What is RELAXATION BREATHING?

Relaxation breathing is a mindful approach at deep breathing as a strategy for resetting the body. Relaxation breathing includes a deep breath followed by holding that breath for a short period (6-7 seconds), and then slowly releasing the breath over a period of about 8 seconds. This slow approach to deep breaths resets the nervous system so that we can calm the body.

This style of breath focus allows one to calm the body, manage anxiety, and self-regulate in different ways.

With relaxation breaths, you’ll notice a few changes to the body:

  • Relaxation breathing slows the heart rate
  • Relaxing breath control allows the body to gains a sense of awareness
  • Relaxation breathing adds calming proprioceptive input through the movement of the ribs when deep breaths are taken in, held, and slowly released. This movement of the ribcage release tension and move blood through the kidneys or renal system through internal proprioceptive input.
  • When the renal system calms the adrenal glands, the production of the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol are impacted, resulting in a lower state of stress.
  • Relaxation breathing engages the parasympathetic fibers in the membranes around the lungs, and has a calming effect.
Try these 3 powerful relaxation breathing strategies with kids.

3 Powerful Relaxation Breathing Strategies

What’s more, studies have found that parasympathetic activity and CNS activities are related to emotional control and psychological well-being in healthy subjects during slow, relaxing breathing techniques.

Here, we’ll cover 3 different ways to elicit the relaxation response:

  1. 4, 7, 8 breathing
  2. Breathing with the tongue on the roof of the mouth
  3. Nose Breathing

4, 7, 8 Breathing

Have you heard the term 4, 7, 8 breathing?

4, 7, 8 breathing is a deep breathing strategy where a deep breath is breathed in for a count of four. The breath is then held for a count of 7, and then breathed out for a count of 8.

During the time when the breath is held for a count of 7, you will notice that you can feel your lungs and ribs continue to expand. Try it!

When that expansion occurs, the fibers in the lungs stretch. This “extra breath” is a powerful calming period. The ribcage expands more during this period, offering greater proprioceptive input, and activating the vagus nerve, which has a relaxing effect.

Breathing out for a count of 8 has the same impact, where the longer breath period again moves the ribcage in a downward motion. Emptying the lungs pushes more air out and continues to offer that calming effect.

In this way, 4, 7, 8 breathing is a relaxation strategy because the counts and time of breaths in, held breath, and breathing out trigger a relaxation response.

Try 4 7 8 breathing for yourself!

breathing with tongue on roof of mouth

Another calming breathing strategy is the tongue posture with breathing with tongue on roof of mouth.

In this relaxation strategy, the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth for a simple reason: this tongue posture ensures that the individual is breathing in and out through the nose.

Also, when one is breathing with the tongue on the roof of the mouth, the tongue adds proprioceptive input through the palate in a calming manner.

Try breathing with your tongue on the roof of your mouth for yourself!

Breathing through the nose

As explained above, when the tongue is resting on the roof of the mouth, nose breathing is ensured. Here’s why that is important:

When breathing in and out with the tongue on the roof of the mouth, nose breathing is enabled, and the parasympathetic response results in relaxation.

When breathing though the nose, the structures of the nose actually regulate airflow and slows the flow of air because of the those physiologic structures.

This PDF titled The Healing Power of the Breath explains more.

Try breathing through your nose for yourself!

Relaxation Breath Strategies

Hopefully, these relaxation breath strategies have offered some explanation on how deep breathing in both the 4, 7, 8 method, nose breathing, and breathing with the tongue on the roof of the mouth are powerful relaxation breath tools to use in self-regulation and coping.

Try these additional relaxing breathing activities paired with the breath strategies listed above.

Deep breathing exercise cards in playing card size for games and sensory needs
Deep Breathing Exercise Cards

Help kids with coping strategies using themed, practical belly breathing strategies that work.

  • Includes A-Z alphabet exercises for whole body exercises
  • 9 different themes to use in learning or therapy themes
  • Oral motor exercises for heavy proprioceptive input through the mouth, tongue, and lips
  • Exercises that can be used any time or anywhere!

Need help getting kids to focus, pay attention, or calm worries? Need help with self-regulation in a calm-alert, ready-to-go state, so they can learn, play, and function?

Achieving a self-regulated state of focus, attention, and being ready to go doesn’t need fancy therapy equipment or sensory tools. Deep breathing exercises are tools that we can all use, any time, and any place!

These deep breathing exercise cards includes 113 different deep breathing exercises that can be printed and used in therapy, home programs, the classroom or at home.

Grab your copy of Deep Breathing Exercise Cards here.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Snow Globe Breath Awareness

snow globe breath awareness exercise

Here, you’ll find a printable snow globe activity designed for breath awareness. This breath awareness practice uses a snow globe theme. Paired with other deep breathing exercises, this resource is a concreate way to help kids develop breath awareness as a coping tool for self-care and mindful breathing.

Add this snow globe breathing exercise to a snow globe theme, including our recent snow globe letter matching puzzles.

Snow globe breath awareness exercise for kids to use in mindful breathing with a snow globe theme.

Breath Awareness

Mental health struggles are so overlooked and underdiagnosed.  Recently a push for mental health awareness has gained some traction.  If you are or know someone who is struggling, you know how difficult it is to get the right help.  Waiting lists to see a doctor can seem like a mile long. Getting in to see the right specialist takes time and persistence.  

In the meantime, or to prevent further damage, a little self care can go a long way. Before taking on all of the challenges of the the classroom, learning, or functioning in general, take time for a little self care. 

When we use breath awareness strategies as a tool for self-care, we are becoming more mindful of how our breath impacts regulation. Breath awareness results in a calmer state. This in turn allows for mindful participation, or being present in the moment, rather than a focus on internal or external stressors.

This strategy can help with breath control as well. Try to settle the snow globe with slow and steady breaths from the bottom of the lungs. A long and slowed breath can help to calm the whole body, so when imagining a snow globe, use that long and slow breath to settle the snow, not stir it up.

Don’t let it add to your stress as one more thing to do, but take five minutes to remind yourself of the possibilities each day.

In addition to finding help and working on self care, becoming more aware of breath and it’s impact on the body and mind is an excellent step to reducing stress and improving mental health.

Snow Globe Meditation

The OT Toolbox has several excellent printables and tools to help develop strategies for reducing stress, decreasing arousal level, or improving focus. The newest printable in the Deep Breathing Series is our Snow Globe Deep Breathing Printable. 

The snow globe meditation tool you’ll find below is a printable PDF breathing exercise. Beyond the easy usability with this printable deep breathing exercise, is the way that it can be used in conjunction with a real snow globe.

A snow globe is a powerful tool for meditation. If you’ve ever shaken up a snow globe, then you probably can picture the sense of calmness that comes over you as you watch the snow inside the globe first swirl furiously and then slowly settle to the bottom of the glass globe.

This imagery can be paralleled to internal stressors.

When we feel stressed by thoughts, emotions, or external stimulants, you might feel like a swirling storm is inside of you. It’s hard to focus on a thought just like it’s difficult to focus on one swirling snowflake in a winter storm. But, with time, the snow slows and settles to the bottom of the snowglobe.

You can use a snow globe imagery to help kids feel calm and focus on breath awareness as a self-regulation tool.

Snow Globe Breath Awareness Tool

To use this page, begin by having kid identify their emotions and feelings. Help them to become more aware of breath by describing their breathing, focus, stress levels as swirling like a shaken up snow globe.

Then put your finger on the first white dot. Trace the arrow and take a deep breath in. Pause at the end of the arrow and breathe out.  Continue around the image several times while breathing.

Then ask kids to describe their emotions, heartbeat, feelings, and breathing. Ask the user to identify how their breathing and other identifiers have changed. Are they feeling more like a settled snow globe? Or do they still feel “shaken up” and swirling? If so, repeat the breath awareness exercise.

What else can I use the Breath Awareness Printable for?

In sensory speak this activity can be used for modulation and improving arousal level.  This basically means practicing self regulation and calming, by focusing the energy on a single activity rather than the offending or overwhelming sensory input.

This Breath Awareness PDF can also be used to improve focus.  Learners can practice channeling their energy onto the page to begin to learn to attend to one item at a time.  This will help practice self control.

Mindfulness is not new.  It has been around for centuries. In western medicine, mindfulness is commonly taught in dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT treatment. According to the writers at Mindful, “mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.  Mindfulness is a quality that every human being already possesses, it’s not something you have to conjure up, you just have to learn how to access it.”

The OT Toolbox has an informative page of resources for mindfulness.  Check it out!

While learning DBT, I tried to learn mindfulness.  I learned I am not good at it.  I can not slow my mind enough to sit without doing or thinking.  As a DBT activity, I clocked how many thoughts went through my head in 60 seconds.  I had over 20 different thoughts one of the days I tried this task.  I one minute!  Imagine people who meditate and are proficient at mindfulness can sit for HOURS thinking of nothing, just listening to nature or attending to their breathing. 

That’s where this snow globe breath awareness task comes in as a mindfulness tool to help identify breathing and overall awareness.

How can I modify this activity?

  • Laminate this PDF to make it reusable
  • Print in full color to make it more motivating
  • Instead of deep breathing, use the activity to place coins on each of the dots, then use the pointer finger to slide to the next arrow.  This develops in hand manipulation.
  • Create a modulation kit of printables, and other sensory items to work on self regulation, stress reduction, and attention/focus. The OT Toolbox has several printable deep breathing exercises and a pack of cards to specifically address this goal year-round.

What other strategies can I use for calming and organizing?

  • Winter Mindfulness Activities
  • Sensory fidgets such a putty, koosh balls, coil bracelets
  • Chewing gum
  • Journaling and creative writing
  • Aromatherapy
  • Heavy work
  • Exercise/yoga/Pilates/walking
  • Pet therapy 
  • Music
  • The list is endless, work with each of your learners to find out what helps them with their self care

Free Snow Globe Breath Awareness Printable

Want to download a copy of this snow globe breathing exercise? Enter your email address into the form below to access this printable tool. Note that this resource is also available for immediate download inside the OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Members can grab the PDF immediately simply by clicking a button.

Snow Globe Breath Awareness Exercise

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

    With all of the holiday fun and excitement, do take time out for self care and deep breathing.  It will be worth it!

    Just keep breathing!

    Victoria Wood, OTR/L

    Victoria Wood

    Victoria Wood, OTR/L 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.

    Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits:

    Star of David Printable Deep Breathing Activity

    Star of David Printable Deep Breathing exercise

    Today I have another one of our mindfulness activities: a Star of David Printable that focuses on deep breathing. This particular deep breathing exercise was a special request by dozens of our readers. So, I knew that for those teaching or providing therapy services to kids in Jewish schools and homes, this would be a big hit.

    Star of David printable deep breathing exercise

    Star of David Printable Deep Breathing Exercise

    You’ve probably seen our other holiday and seasonal deep breathing exercises. They all focus on offering a fun and motivating way for kids to reset.

    Deep breathing strategies can help kids calm down, focus, and to re-group when they need to specifically focus on mindful participation in activities. It’s a powerful calming strategy.

    That’s where this Star of David Printable comes into play. It can be used during Hanukkah, or it can be used any time of year!

    Incorporate this deep breathing tool into other seasonal and themed activities:

    Free Star of David Printable for Deep Breathing

    Want to print off your copy of this free Star of David printable for deep breathing and mindfulness? Enter your email address into the form below to access this resource.

    Note that this printable is also found inside our Member’s Club. Members can log into their account and access it, along with hundreds of other printable resources, tools, activities, and crafts to help kids thrive.

    Free Star of David Deep Breathing Exercise

      We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

      Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

      What if you had themed, NO-PREP activities designed to collect data and can help kids build essential fine motor skills?

      Take back your time and start the year off with a bang with these done-for-you fine motor plans to help kids form stronger hands with our Winter Fine Motor Kit. This print-and-go winter fine motor kit includes no-prep fine motor activities to help kids develop functional grasp, dexterity, strength, and endurance. Use fun, winter-themed, fine motor activities so you can help children develop strong fine motor skills in a digital world. 

      The Winter Fine Motor Kit includes reproducible activity pages include: pencil control strips, scissor skills strips, simple and complex cutting shapes, lacing cards, toothpick precision art, crumble hand strengthening crafts, memory cards, coloring activities, and so much more.

      Christmas Wreath Deep Breathing Exercise

      Christmas wreath deep breathing exercise

      Want all the benefits of deep breathing this holiday season? This Christmas Wreath deep breathing exercise is a free printable that you can grab and start using for mindfulness or coping during the hectic holiday season!

      Calming sensory activity for Christmas chaos. Use this Christmas wreath deep breathing exercise.

      Christmas Wreath Deep Breathing Exercise

      Who could use a moment of relaxation breathing in the way of deep breathing right about now? The better question is, who couldn’t?

      As if life is not stressful enough, the holidays are coming up!  While this is a joyous time for most, it can also be stressful. Given all of the changes in schedules, building excitement, increased chores and errands, money woes, and the unpredictability that comes with new events can often push an already overwhelmed person over their limit.

      For our kids who become overwhelmed by new situations, different sensory input, or changes to routines, this time of year can wreak havoc on coping tools that may be in place.

      The Neuroscience of Deep Breathing

      When the body responds to stress it sends out signals to fight, flight or freeze.  Your body either responds by “flight”: running away/avoiding the task at hand, “fight”: becoming aggressive/combative as a way to avoid the trigger, or “freeze”: suddenly becoming unable to move/think/act.

      This is generated in the brain stem, or the hippocampus to be more specific.  Did you know a brain stem response is automatic and usually out of our realm of control?  A student refusing to complete an activity or walk down the hallway may not be able to control their responses until they can calm their central nervous system.   A nervous system in flight, fight, or freeze is not efficient or effective.  

      Under stress or an imminent/imagined threat, the body responds with increased breathing, elevated heart rate, difficulty making decisions, memory loss, sweating, increased blood pressure, strong emotions, and about a dozen other autonomic (automatic) responses.

      For more information about psychological stress and the autonomic nervous system, check out this resource.

      The good news? You CAN fight the hippocampus monster to take back control of your body! 

      Calming Strategies to Reset the Body

      One helpful strategy is, using deep breathing exercises.  There are numerous other strategies, such as:

      • Deep pressure
      • Calming activities
      • Listening to music
      • Taking a walk
      • Drinking a hot or cold beverage
      • Eating a delicious snack
      • And of course, Deep breathing!

      Deep breathing and these coping strategies are quick and effective ways to begin the process of calming down.

      The OT Toolbox has several resources available to help understand and provide meaningful sensory strategies:

      Christmas Wreath Deep Breathing Exercise

      The OT toolbox has combined deep breathing exercises with a holiday theme, to easily incorporate into lesson plans. A themed lesson plan can add external motivation if planned and executed correctly.  Themed exercises, while super exciting and motivating, need to be proportional to the rest of the day, so as not to increase the arousal level further.

      These pages can be printed as they are, laminated for durability, or put into plastic protector sheets. Lamination and plastic protectors not only add to the durability of paperwork, but they can be easily sanitized to cut down on germ transfer, which is especially high during winter months.  Printed pages, instead of laminated, can be helpful if you have multiple students who need this type of assistance at the same time. 

      When creating a sensory diet for your student, these worksheets or cards can be included as part of the plan.  Making a binder of strategies, or mini cards on a keyring to teach your student to select the appropriate activity, is an excellent way to teach independence and self regulation.

      To use these sheets:

      1. have the student touch their finger onto one of the white dots. 
      2.  Instruct them to breathe in.  
      3. Guide them to trace to the end of the arrow and breathe out.  
      4. Repeat around the diagram as many times as needed for improved calming.

      For non holiday themed deep breathing exercises, try these deep breathing exercise cards. These deep breathing exercise cards include 113 different deep breathing exercises that can be printed and used in therapy, home programs, the classroom or whatever setting you find the student in need of self regulation.

      Check out this other Christmas themed deep breathing exercise printables!

      Take a moment to help your student breathe deep, put everything in perspective, talk it over, and start again.  Look for precipitating factors in the environment that may have triggered this stress response and make an effort to modify or change this if possible.  These triggers might be sounds, sights, smells, touch, or movement based. 

      Free Christmas Wreath Deep Breathing Exercise

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      Free Christmas Wreath Breathing Exercise

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        Victoria Wood

        Victoria Wood, OTR/L 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.

        Of course if that does not work, you could always offer chocolate, that helps everything!

        *The term “student” is used for ease in this article.  These activities are meant for a multitude of audiences. “They” is used in lieu of he/she for inclusivity.

        Ghost Deep Breathing Exercise

        Today I have a fun mindfulness exercise for kids…a ghost deep breathing exercise! This deep breathing exercise is great for Halloween or adding to a ghost theme in therapy, the classroom, or home during the month of October, when self-regulation can use the fun of Halloween and ghosts with major calming benefits. You can grab this free mindfulness printable below!

        This ghost themed activity is a powerful self-regulation activity for kids this time of year!

        ghost deep breathing exercise for self-regulation for kids with a ghost theme

        Ghost Deep Breathing Exercise

        If you’ve been reading The OT Toolbox for long, you may have seen our pumpkin deep breathing exercise printable and our spider web deep breathing exercise. Both are fun ways to add a holiday theme to self-regulation needs.

        Today’s Ghost Breathing Exercise is another fun Halloween themed therapy tool to use with kids!

        For more mindfulness exercises, you can check out the other deep breathing exercises here on the site.

        I love this deep breathing tool because it has a fun ghostly “woooo-hoooo” addition where kids can add their own fun and non-spooky ghost noises as they slowly breathe out.

        Add this resource to ghost themed therapy activities or calming exercises all during the month of October. It may even be a good way to get excited ghosts and goblins to calm down before a big Halloween party!

        More ghost activities

        This self-regulation tool is a great addition to these other ghost activities that build skills:

        • Ghost sensory bin (make bread ties into ghosts for fine motor sensory play!)
        • Ghost craft– This simple ghost craft develops scissor skills, bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, and more.
        • Ghost Catch Game– All you need is a recycled milk carton and an old sock for bilateral coordination, crossing midline, gross motor skills, eye-hand coordination, core strength, and more.
        • Ghost Cookies– Baking with kids is such an awesome way to develop executive functioning skills. These ghost cookies are spooky fun!

        Free Deep Breathing Exercise

        You can print off this ghost deep breathing printable and use it in therapy sessions all month long!

        Enter your email address into the form below to access this freebie.

        Free Ghost Deep Breathing Exercise

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          Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

          Don’t miss this pumpkin activity kit for fine motor skill work all month long!

          Pumpkin activity kit
          Pumpkin Fine Motor Kit

          Emotional Intelligence

          Emotional Intelligence activities for kids

          Emotional intelligence in children is a skill that takes practice, example, and more practice to develop. For all of us, emotional intelligence can be an ongoing skill that impacts social emotional skills, relationships, and functioning in day to day tasks. Here we are

          For those of us raising children and working with children it is clear that they need more than ‘book smarts’ to navigate the rather complex world that they are growing up in. For a long time the intelligence quotient or Emotional IQ was the only benchmark for measuring children’s potential and predicting how well they would achieve.

          In more recent times people studying development and psychology realized that there were other skills necessary for achieving success in the world. One of these sets of skills has become known as Emotional Intelligence.

          Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage and understand your emotions and those around you with empathy and perspective. These emotional intelligence activities for kids develop Emotional IQ through play.

          What is Emotional Intelligence?

          Emotional intelligence is described as the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and to understand the emotions of those around you. The concept of emotional intelligence also known as emotional quotient or EQ developed in the 1990’s and has gained widespread acceptance in recent years.

          Instrumental in the development of the theory and models of emotional intelligence is Daniel Goleman a psychologist and author. Goleman and emotional intelligence may be terms that you’ve heard connected, where he describes four main domains that make up Emotional Intelligence.

          These domains are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. What do each of these emotional intelligence domains mean?

          • Self-awareness – Self-awareness is having conscious knowledge of your own character and feelings. This results in being able to recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Self-awareness in kids plays a role in emotional control, mindset, habits, and executive functioning skills.
          • Self-management – Self-management is being able to control and manage your emotions in a healthy way. Self-management for kids involves self-regulation, mindset, habits, and self-control. Co-regulation plays a role in this aspect as well.
          • Social awareness – Social awareness is the ability to pick up the emotions of other people and to understand what they are feeling. This can be a challenge for children of all needs.
          • Relationship management – Relationship management is the ability to build relationships with others through positive interpersonal communication skills (Segal, 2020). Children develop relationship management skills through example by watching others in their lives, by interacting with peers and adults, and through play.

          The domains are further broken down into twelve competencies and learnable skills that are relevant to the specific domain. (Matlock, 2017)

          At the bottom of this post, you can find hands-on activities for children that develop each area of these emotional intelligence skills.

          Emotional intelligence and emotional leadership

          Emotional leadership is a term developed by Goleman and others, and refers to leadership in groups, impacted by one’s emotional intelligence. When you take a look at the domains of EI, you can see how they play into the functioning of a group.

          Occupational therapists know a thing or two about group management and group leadership. At it’s infancy, occupational therapy played a major role in group therapy and mental health. While this domain of occupational therapy intervention is no longer primary area of intervention, there are still many OTs working in the mental health arena and especially in the group treatment intervention.

          Emotional leadership is an important part of group occupational therapy sessions, as the participants are interacting with others in the group and developing specific individualized goal areas but also group goal areas. Groups in therapy have a leader, often the therapist, but sometimes the therapist presents as a facilitator but one that keeps the group on track as the group interacts with other participants.

          In this way, participants can develop emotional leadership skills and skills that can be used outside of the group setting as a development of emotional intelligence and emotional learning.

          It is clear that a lot of work has been done on developing an understanding of emotional intelligence and the components that make up this construct. But how important is emotional intelligence in the lives and development of our children?

          Is Emotional Intelligence Important?

          Cognitive behavioral therapy recognizes that feelings or emotions can influence thoughts. When emotions run high they can alter the way our brains work and this can have a negative effect on our cognitive abilities. Our feelings can influence the decisions we make and how we interact with other people. It makes sense that having a greater understanding of our emotions will help guide how we interact with others.

          Improving our emotional intelligence makes it easier to resolve conflicts, manage our stress and interact appropriately with those around us (Segal, 2020). And children will definitely benefit from developing these skills. Children’s learning is influence by their emotional state so managing emotions in a positive way allows children to be receptive learners at school.

          Emotional intelligence includes the ability to name emotions. The act of naming emotions tends to diffuse their intensity and lessens the negative impact they may have on our cognitive abilities. The psychologist Dan Siegel refers to this as ‘name it to tame it’ (Schwartz, 2015). The value of recognizing feelings and emotions is evident but how does emotional intelligence develop.

          Development of Emotional Intelligence

          When asked how emotional intelligence develops in a recent interview Daniel Goleman stated that “emotional intelligence begins to develop in the earliest years. All the small exchanges children have with their parents, teachers, and with each other carry emotional messages. These messages repeat over and over to form the core of a child’s emotional outlook and capabilities.” (Scholastic, viewed 2021)

          As adults interacting with children it becomes important to ensure that we are able to recognise and manage our own emotions. Once we are able to do this we can become valuable role models for children and we can provide opportunities for them to see emotional intelligence in action. Recognizing and discussing emotions with children lays a foundation for their self-regulation.

          The development of emotional intelligence begins in infancy, through interactions with caregivers, and continues as children are socialized across their school years alongside parents, peers, and teachers. Emotional intelligence is gained through both informal experiences (observations and conversations) and through and formal instruction (being taught emotion vocabulary, learning self-regulation strategies).

          How emotional intelligence is taught depends on age, but unlike learning other skills such as math and science or English language arts, there is no age at which it is too early or too late to develop your emotional quotient. The parts of the brain needed to develop emotional intelligence are active from birth and will continue to develop throughout life.

          As with many developmental tasks it seems that the first few years of life the brain is at its most receptive to learning key skills. And emotional intelligence is one of these important skills. (Brackett, Cipriano, 2015

          This resource on executive functioning skills and emotional regulation shares more information on the role executive functioning skills play on emotional IQ.

           How to Teach Emotional intelligence?

          An essential part of developing emotional intelligence is being able to talk about feelings. This skill set is often termed emotional literacy and it is something that we are able to teach young children.

          We can teach children to read and understand emotions and to respond appropriately to their own emotions and the emotions of others. Goleman explains that you can teach young children about the most basic emotions, such as happiness and anger and when they get older touch on more complicated feelings, such as jealousy, pride, and guilt (Scholastic, viewed 2021)

          It is important to remember to include a range of emotions both positive and negative when talking about feelings.

          Although it is not always comfortable talking about negative emotions it is important that children recognize and accept the wide range of emotions that they are likely to experience during their lives.  We can incorporate opportunities to promote emotional intelligence in our everyday lives. 

          Emotional intelligence activities for therapy, the classroom, ad home to help children develop emotional intelligence skills for functioning.

          Emotional Intelligence Activities

          What does promoting Emotional Intelligence look like in a therapy session?

          As an occupational therapist (and a parent!) it can be overwhelming to think about the number of developmental needs that fall within your domain of influence. My therapy approach has always been aligned with building confidence and self-awareness in the children that I treat so in that way emotional intelligence has been fostered through incidental learning and interactions.

          In more recent times I have used tools and resources that focus specifically on building skills that will enhance emotional intelligence – empathy, self- regulation, communication skills – depending on what the individual child needs. 

          In my therapy session the first few minutes are spent getting a gauge of where the child is at and what their mood is like. By spending a few minutes engaging one on one with the child I am able to assess their level of attention, level of arousal and motivation at the time. I also have a mood meter on my wall and the kids love moving the arrow to the colour that corresponds to how they are feeling that day – low energy, just right energy, slightly high energy or off the chart energy levels.

          With a reluctant child I might get the ball rolling by sharing how I am feeling that day and using the mood meter to plot my energy levels. I also have a feeling chart called ‘How does your jellybean feel today?” adapted from a book by Susan Jelleberg (Jellybean Jamboree).

          This introduces the idea of naming emotions and of expanding our vocabulary related to emotions. In this way I feel I am working on the self-awareness component of emotional intelligence. 

          The next step is ensuring that the child is in a good space to learn and this means aiming for a calm-alert level of arousal. The Zones of Regulation offer a number of tools to help children reach that just right space. Some children need activities to lift their energy and some children need activities to lower their energy levels. I find deep pressure or proprioceptive activities work like a charm and I also use breathing activities frequently in my therapy sessions.

          In this way we tackle some of the self-management aspects of emotional intelligence. 

          Social management is a tricky one for young children to pick you. Learning that the people around them do not always think and feel the same is them is an on-going process. There are some lovely activities to encourage empathy in children and to help them become aware of other people’s feelings.

          Finally relationship management is encouraged through appropriate interactions between myself and the child during the therapy session. For some children this means learning how to deal with losing a game or competition, learning how to take turns or share or learning to give and receive complements.  

          So within the confines of a short therapy session, while working on other specific OT goals, it is very possible to facilitate and encourage a child’s emotional intelligence. An understanding of emotional intelligence and is various elements means that it is also possible to encourage its growth in the classroom and in our homes.

          And it is with this well-developed emotional intelligence that I believe our children will be able to successfully navigate the world they are growing up in and find meaning in their lives. 

          For further information on some of the component skills and activities related to emotional intelligence have a look at the following links. There are numerous resources on the OT Toolbox that deal with developing different components of emotional intelligence.  

          Self-Awareness Activities for Kids

          To develop self-awareness it is important to be able to understand what you are feeling. Children can participate in some of the following activities in increase their awareness of emotions.

          These self-awareness activities promote social emotional development through the awareness and process of practicing identification of emotions:

          Penguin emotions game– Use this penguin theme emotions activity to support emotional intelligence in kids.

          Social emotional learning– This social emotional skills worksheet supports the development of emotional intelligence by allowing children to draw in facial expressions that match various emotional states.

          Social emotional learning 2– This comprehensive resource on social emotional learning supports development of emotional intelligence by offering resources and information on how children develop emotional skills and ways to support that development.

          Spring matching emotions slide deck game– This Spring themed emotions activity supports the development of emotional skills by offering practice and matching of facial expressions.

          Self-Management Activities for Kids

          To develop self-management skills you need to move beyond identifying emotions and figure out strategies that will help to regulate these emotions and subsequent behaviours. 

          This Zones of regulation toolbox offers a collection of activities and resources designed to promote self-regulation and self-management skills for kids.

          Breath control is an important skill for kids to achieve in developing and refining self-management skills.

          Deep breathing exercise cards are a powerful tool to use in building and developing self-management skills for kids. Print off these cards and use them over and over again to meet the interests and needs of a whole classroom or clinic of children.

          Proprioception activities are heavy work movement activities that provide children with a sense of awareness when it comes to how their body moves through space or in a given situation.

          Social Awareness Activities

          To develop social awareness you will need to understand other people’s emotions effectively. These hands-on social awareness activities are strategies that children can use to develop emotional intelligence in social situations.

          Empathy for others- Developing empathy requires practice and awareness. This Quick as cricket activity for Empathy helps children to understand the perspectives of others through a classic children’s book. The hands-on accompaniment activity gives kids a chance to practice their empathy skills and put them to work in social situations or through the social interaction with others.

          Try these friendship activities to work on specific skills in developing social awareness, relationships skills, and interpersonal skills in children.

          Through books, families can look at the pictures and come back to specific concepts again and again. And, adding hands-on, multi-sensory play experiences brings those concepts home.

          In the resource, Exploring Books Through Play, you’ll do just that.

          This digital, E-BOOK is an amazing resource for anyone helping kids learn about acceptance, empathy, compassion, and friendship. In Exploring Books through Play, you’ll find therapist-approved resources, activities, crafts, projects, and play ideas based on 10 popular children’s books. Each book covered contains activities designed to develop fine motor skills, gross motor skills, sensory exploration, handwriting, and more. Help kids understand complex topics of social/emotional skills, empathy, compassion, and friendship through books and hands-on play.

          Click here to get your copy of Exploring Books Through Play.

          Relationship Management Activities

          To develop relationship management skills you will need to know how to develop and maintain good relationships with other people. These relationship management activities are strategies to work on emotional intelligence during interactions and relationships with others. 

          These Social skills interventions are therapy activities designed to promote relationships with others through hands-on activities that give kids practice to support relationship skills with others.

          This resource on Executive functioning in school is helpful in addressing relationships with peers, mentors, and teachers.

          To work on emotional development requires many executive functioning skills, including impulse control, working memory, mindset, attention, planning, self-talk, inhibition, and more. To address these skills in kids, using a fun, hands-on approach to talking about these skills through lists, drawing, and goal-setting is key. You’ll find the exact tools to address these needs in the printable, Impulse Control Journal.

          Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

          The Impulse Control Journal…a printable resource for helping kids strategize executive functioning skill development. When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

          When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

          When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

          When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

          When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

          Grab the Impulse Control Journal to build organizational strategies, planning, prioritization, habits, and mindset in kids.

          Contributor to The OT Toolbox: Janet Potterton is an occupational therapist working predominantly in school-based settings and I love, love, love my job. I have two children (if you don’t count my husband!), two dogs, one cat, two guinea pigs and one fish. When I am not with my family or at work I try to spend time in nature. The beach is my happy place.