The 54321 Grounding Technique for Kids 2

The 54321 Grounding Technique for Kids

24 February 2021 • Words by Nanette Botha 4 mins

Close your eyes and imagine a tree in the wind for a moment. A little breeze won’t affect the tree much, but a strong wind can shake it. If the roots are shallow, and the wind is too strong and too overwhelming, the tree will be uprooted. However, that same wind can blow past a tree with a strong root system. The branches may sway and the tree may bend, but the tree is grounded and still stands strong after the storm. It is the same with our children.

In a fast-paced, ever-changing world, the input we receive is like the wind that blows. Perhaps it starts as a slight breeze, and our kids can brush it off without being affected. But then stressors may get stronger and things become overwhelming, and if our children don’t know how to manage these stressors, they can lose their feeling of being grounded. Being grounded means being stable, and it involves behaving in a sensible and reasonable way. When we are grounded, we are more likely to make good decisions, think before acting, and consider rational choices.

The 54321 grounding technique is one way of helping our kids “get their roots down deeper.” This technique utilizes the five senses and supports children in tuning into what is happening around them and what they are experiencing in the current moment.

The technique consists of noticing and naming the following:

This exercise helps your child to focus their energy and attention on certain things at a time instead of letting many types of sensory input bombard them at once. It channels their attention, teaching them to focus and apply their minds to the task. The 54321 grounding technique also serves as a mindfulness exercise that may relieve anxiety symptoms when practiced as part of other mindfulness exercises.

When doing the exercise, it is essential to not rush through it but rather spend time doing each step correctly. It will be necessary to practice the activity with your child so they can become familiar with it before being expected to do it in a scenario where they may start to feel overwhelmed. As with other mindfulness exercises, practice this technique with your child when they are calm and content, allowing them to better absorb what they are learning so they can apply it practically.

For more ideas on implementing grounding techniques and why this could be beneficial for your child, have a look at the blog on Peekaboo’s Relaxing Roots, and also be sure to print out the activity that goes with the story. The activity will provide visuals to help your child understand what makes their roots go down deeper and why that is necessary.

What if your child has a hard time slowing down and focusing their attention on one particular task?

Being aware and present in the current moment means being mindful, but children don’t necessarily learn how to be mindful of their own accord. They need to be taught mindfulness techniques and provided with opportunities to practice them, just as they would practice reading or any other skill.

Additional games and activities to improve mindfulness in children:

Breathing exercises

How we breathe directly affects how we feel, especially when managing anxiety. Practicing slow, deep breathing with our kids will help them to unwind and get rid of built-up stress, and support them in feeling more in control. Short, quick breaths will have the opposite effect, though. Be sure to let your child know that exhaling is just as important as inhaling, and that we need to exhale properly before taking another breath.

Breathing correctly is essential, but it may be tricky for younger children to understand how they should breathe. Make it fun by having your child lie down on their back with their favorite stuffed animal or teddy bear on their belly while breathing. Show them how the teddy (and their belly) moves up when they inhale and down again when they exhale. Encourage them to keep going by slowly moving the teddy up and down at least five times.

Listen for the bell

This exercise is an excellent way for children to practice mindfulness by listening for a specific sound. Have your child sit quietly with their eyes closed. At varying intervals, softly ring a bell or make some other type of soft sound. Every time you make the sound, your child should wiggle their fingers or nod their head to indicate that they heard it.

Guessing game

Put a few random objects that you know your child is familiar with into a bag. Let your child put their hand into the bag, take hold of an object, and try to figure out what it is without looking at it. It is great fun to involve the whole family in trying to guess an object!

I Spy

This simple game we know so well (“I spy with my little eye . . .”) can help your child become more aware of the things they see, and improve their ability to filter out extraneous objects and tune in to what is important at that moment.

Tasting game

My kids love this game! Ahead of time, set up a variety of things that your child can taste. Blindfold them (or if they prefer, have them close their eyes) and give them something to taste. They must guess what it is guided only by their sense of taste. The same game can be played by using their sense of smell instead of taste.

These mindfulness games may require some practice, but they can be good fun when your child becomes more familiar with them. At the same time, your child will be learning to be more aware of what is happening in the present moment. These games all work on different aspects of the 54321 grounding technique, and they will help them practice the skills they need to tune into the different senses required to become grounded.

When you have spent some time practicing these games and the 54321 grounding technique, remember to help your child generalize these skills to other environments. When they show signs of becoming overwhelmed, frustrated, or anxious, support them by suggesting that you do some deep breathing together (to help them settle down), followed by the 54321 grounding activity. This will alleviate anxiety symptoms, help your child feel more in control, and boost their confidence in different environments.

Nanette Botha

Educational specialist & mother of 3 young children Co-founder: AIMS Global & Leadership at: Augmental