Interoception plays a vital role in children’s overall development, influencing emotional responses, independence, social skills, and safety. Interoception is the sense of our internal organs, providing crucial information about hunger, heart rate, bladder and bowel function, thirst, butterflies in the stomach, and other various sensations. The communication between receptors in internal organs, muscles, and skin with the brain is fundamental in processing information the body receives. This system can greatly impact our emotional responses, independence, social skills, and safety. A person with good interoceptive awareness will have a racing heart and know to take deep breaths. Or they will feel hungry and go get a snack. Building interoceptive awareness may be more challenging for some kids and knowing how to build their awareness is critical for emotional regulation.
Linking Interoception and Emotional Awareness
Interoception includes the ability to know and understand our emotions. If a child has a hard time identifying emotions and understanding their feelings they would benefit from further development of interoception. An article in 2018 stated “There is compelling evidence demonstrating a link between poor or disrupted awareness of sensory information, or interoceptive awareness, and difficulties with emotional regulation.” Enhancing a child's ability to recognize internal sensations can contribute significantly to their emotional intelligence, fostering a deeper understanding of their feelings and promoting effective emotional regulation.
Interoception and Regulation
Having emotional regulation “implies tolerance and understanding of signals from the body and the related cognitive attributions. It also implies having the capacity to positively manage challenging sensations and related behavioral responses” (Price and Hooven, 2018). Having a well developed awareness of interoception can greatly improve a child’s emotional regulation. However, having a model of regulation is the first step for them to understand their own body. Only if our own system is regulated is when we can help to co-regulate our child when they are having moments of dysregulation.
Activities to development interceptive system
Labeling internal and external body parts
Engaging children in activities that involve labeling external body parts fosters a basic understanding of their physical selves. Gradually progressing to internal body parts enhances their awareness of the connections between their body and emotions.
Deep breathing exercises
Teaching deep breathing exercises encourages children to connect with their breath, promoting a calming effect on the nervous system. This simple and powerful technique enhances interoceptive awareness and provides a practical tool for emotional regulation.
Incorporating mindfulness activities, such as guided imagery, body scans, sensory exploration, helps children become more attuned to their internal experiences. Mindfulness assists with being present and is a valuable skill for developing interoceptive awareness.
Labeling different emotions
Actively discussing and labeling various emotions helps children recognize and articulate their feelings. This practice builds emotional vocabulary and strengthens their interoceptive connection to emotional experiences.
The Zones of Regulation and How Your Engine Runs Programs
These structured programs provide frameworks for understanding and regulating emotions. "The Zones of Regulation" helps children categorize emotions into color-coded zones, while "How Your Engine Runs" introduces the concept of self-awareness in relation to energy levels.
Taking your heart rate before/after different activities
Monitoring and discussing changes in heart rate before and after different activities help children link physiological responses to emotional experiences. This practice reinforces the connection between interoception and emotional regulation.
Model emotional regulation and identify feelings regularly
Caregivers and educators can actively model emotional regulation and regularly identify their own feelings. By demonstrating healthy responses to emotional stimuli, adults provide valuable examples for children to emulate in their own regulation processes.
In conclusion, enhancing interoceptive skills in children is a multifaceted process that connects emotional awareness, regulation, and practical activities. By incorporating these into educational and therapeutic approaches, caregivers and educators can positively impact development of a child's interoceptive capabilities, laying the foundation for a lifetime of emotional well-being.
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