The business of fizziness

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Nathalie Downing and Sarah Richens share their experience of fizziness, and what to do with it.

Lucy shouted across the room as I tried my best to help calm the fizziness of her behaviour by modelling some techniques she had learnt in our sessions. But it wasn’t working, and I thanked Lucy for letting me know.

Anyone who has been told to ‘calm down’ will understand how frustrating and provoking that phrase is, and it’s usually followed by an angry shout of “I am calm”. In school we actively avoid using ‘calm down’ because in the history of calming down, no one has ever calmed down, by being told to calm down. Being told to breathe, take a pause, or go to your happy place can feel just as enraging, as it did for Lucy that day. Lucy knew all the breathing methods, calming tools and regulation strategies. She was an expert at them, and successfully used these strategies throughout the day to keep herself grounded and calm. But these strategies did not work for her in the moments when she needed to move the fizziness out, rather than calm the fizziness down. In those moments what she needed was activation, not regulation.

For me, the difference between activation and regulation is like this:

  • I’ve been sitting down for 13 hours on a long-haul flight and my body compels me to stand up, move, pace, wiggle, walk and exercise. This is my body saying ‘activate, get going, move about, release pent up energy, I’ve got a fizziness that needs to shift and move out’.
  • When my mind has gone blank, I cannot speak, my body is tense, my jaw is tight and I feel I might fall to the ground if I don’t sit, breathe deeply, stretch, close my eyes, and visualise being somewhere else. This is my body saying ‘regulate, tone down, tune out, control what you can, rebalance and dampen the fizziness inside’.

When I’m teaching, I use the examples above to illustrate to the children what it feels like to me (although I substitute the long-haul flight example for a lesson or assembly where you are required to sit and listen for a long time). I model activation and regulation activities, then we work out what works for them and what doesn’t (and Lucy is always useful in these sessions).

■ Regulate or activate?

We’ve developed a set of five cards, which can help children to calm, regulate, activate, get grounded and reset.

Not everything works for everyone, and what calms one person may well activate another. We use these cards, along with our sensory bags, throughout the school day, either individually with a child at their desk; with groups or whole classes to provide a pause or teach a skill or more recently we have used our cards, sensory bags and our activate activities as part of a planned sensory circuit in schools. These are very well received, and particularly helpful for children who arrive at school with some extra fizziness that needs to be moved about.

Below are our top three strategies that can be used individually, in small groups or as a whole class.

■ Five cards to calm, regulate, activate, get grounded and reset.
  1. Wall or chair push ups. Place your hands against the wall or chair and do a push up. You could even decorate handprints to put on the wall as a guide. Moving the fizziness.
  2. Use pipe cleaners to twist and plait or link paperclips together to make a long chain. This ordering and sorting activity helps to order and sort your insides. Calming the fizziness.
  3. Birthday cake breathing. Imagine your favourite cake. What flavour is it? Imagine you can smell it and take a big breath, or smell it in through your noise. Then blow out the candles by blowing out through your mouth. Breathing the fizziness.

You will get the best results if you practise these skills with your children and create opportunities for children to teach these skills to others. These work best when children practise them through the day—you cannot teach these skills ‘cold’ in the moment. Teaching these to all children can be helpful in the long term. These simple and effective skills are often essential for some but become useful for all.

Nathalie Downing
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Nathalie Downing and Sarah Richens have taught in both mainstream and special schools. Together they established Point5, the point of behaviour, where they support schools, children and parents with practical resources and strategies.

Website: point5.org.uk
Facebook: @Point5-ltd
Instagram:@point5ltd
LinkedIn: point5-the-point-of-behaviour
Youtube: @point5ltd

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