Having calm children

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By Sue Cowleyeducation writer and consultant

Helping children to understand and manage their stress levels can help them to stay calm. It can also reduce confrontation and disruption in your lessons

calm child

In our modern world, children are subjected to lots of different sources of stress: living in a noisy city environment, constantly being bombarded by the media, pressure to do well in their exams or to fit in with their peers. We need to find ways to help our children manage their stress levels, showing them how to stay calm in stressful situations. For children from difficult home backgrounds, your classroom could offer a rare sanctuary of calm and peace. Sometimes these children will appear to push you away; where parental role models are aggressive and confrontational, it can take time to develop a positive relationship between child and teacher. Consider the following action points:

  1. Teach the children to handle their anger: Get your class thinking about how they might manage their angry feelings in a better, more effective way. Set up a potentially tricky scenario – ‘Your baby brother steals one of your toys and breaks it’ – and then talk about positive ways of handling the situation.
  2. Incorporate moments of silence: Silence gives a lovely calm feeling, and is important in creating an atmosphere good for concentration. A few minutes of silent time can provide a welcome respite from an often noisy, busy school environment. Find ways to give your children some time of silence during the course of each day.
  3. Manage overall noise levels: Give your class responsibility for managing the levels of noise in the classroom. Challenge the children to design a ‘noise-o-meter’ in a D&T lesson – for instance, using a graph or a clock face. When the class are doing any noisy activity, ask for a volunteer to keep a check on the overall noise levels, using their noise-o-meter.
  4. Do some simple self massage exercises: We often store lots of tension in our hands and faces, so teach the children some simple ways of massaging away the stress. Here is one example: put both index fingers at the bottom of the nose, beside each nostril, and rub gentle circles outwards to relax tension and improve the breathing.
  5. Use peer pressure in a positive way: Your children can help each other stay calm and focused. Working together with their peers for positive reasons can be a powerful motivator. Find ways of giving whole-class rewards to harness this force – for instance, adding marbles to a jar for good work and behaviour and giving the whole class a treat when the jar is full.
  6. Use team-building exercises: Where children are able to cooperate with each other, there is bound to be far less tension in the classroom. Do some exercises that need cooperation to work successfully – for instance guiding a blindfolded partner around an obstacle course by giving whispered instructions.
  7. Celebrate different kinds of success: Children will often use a confrontational attitude to mask feelings of low self-esteem and failure. Find lots of ways to celebrate success in your classroom – social achievements as well as academic ones. Towards the end of each day, ask the children to reflect on something positive that each person has contributed to the class.
  8. Build up the children’s confidence: There are many ways in which we can inadvertently damage children’s self-confidence. For those shy members of your class, you will need to build up their confidence gradually. Get them contributing in small group situations at first, rather than putting them on the spot in front of the whole class.
  9. Keep a lid on overexcitement: It is only natural that children will sometimes get themselves over excited. Help them to calm down by using a slow, hypnotic tone of voice and lots of repetition. Never shout over a lively or out-of-control class – instead use a sharp sound or a written instruction on the board to regain their attention.
  10. Use sensory exercises to build focus: Using one sense to the exclusion of others is a great way to build concentration, creating a feel of calm and focus. For instance, you might blindfold some volunteers and ask them to feel a range of materials, talking about the different sensations that they experience.
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