Why Should You Help Kids Recognize Sensations?

diane sitting on steps with three kidsA friend asked for my opinion as to whether her daughter should be present when the moving van came and removed everything to take to their new home. Her daughter, age 7, was very attached to the current home and had been sad about having to say goodbye to it. My friend wondered if watching the actual move would be too upsetting.

I shared my thoughts with her, emphasizing that there was no right answer. I suggested she ask her child to describe her feelings and her sensations to help them both decide what would be best to do.

“Sensations?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, suddenly realizing that a lot of parents don’t stop to think about helping build a child’s sensation vocabulary.

In the world of therapy, especially therapeutic approaches created to help address trauma-related issues and needs, there is a huge emphasis on helping clients identify their sensations since trauma is about experiences stored in sensory ways.

Much of the processes around helping someone heal from trauma involves helping them connect with their sensations and release the traumatic energy trauma creates. [Credit to Peter Levine for this concept. His therapeutic approach, Somatic Experiencing, is world-renowned for helping those suffering from PTSD, but is also helpful in any circumstance where children have experienced overwhelming sensations. For more information check out his book, Trauma through a Child’s Eyes.]

Why help children learn about their sensations?

Helping children get in touch with their sensations is a way to help them become more acquainted with their own bodies and noticing their sensations is a way for them to recognize how they are responding to situations.

Parents can go on to encourage their children to express themselves through their sensations, releasing any bodily tension that occur when they are overwhelmed or fearful.

“It sounds like you feel a lot of sensations in your tummy right now. It’s good to notice that is where your body is feeling the scared feelings we talked about. In your mind you can let your tummy know it’s okay to feel that stress there, and you can take some deep breaths and let out some of that stress, so your tummy can relax.”

a young girl holding her head as though she has pain thereI suggested to my friend that she invite her child to become aware of her sensations as well as her feelings in order to decide if it would be a good idea for her to be present during the actual move.

I also told her I would share a list that I found online and added to, based on some of Levine’s work.

Just as parents can take a feelings list and help their children identify what they are feeling, they can also take a sensations list and do the same thing.

It can be helpful for parents to become more aware of their own sensations as well.

Noticing where in your body you are experiencing day-to-day moments can help you become more in touch with who you are and what you need.

When you notice your sensations, you can also allow any of the stress-related energy to be released. Sometimes through actions like shaking your arms or doing wall push-ups, dancing or spinning or stretching, you will notice you are inviting sensations to guide your behaviors.

Feel free to use the following list to help increase your sensations vocabulary and share it with your child. Invite your child to notice the sensations in their bodies and to learn more about just how many there can be.

Our bodies talk to us, and this is one way we can listen and teach our kids to listen as well.

Invitation to Reflect

  1. As you read this blog, are you aware of any sensations it created in you? If so, what were they and where in your body did they occur?
  2. Have you ever had conversations with your children about their sensations? How did they respond?
  3. How might you use this information to help your children be more aware of their sensations and learn how to express and release the energy created in their bodies when they are stressed?

Sensations can involve any and all of the five senses:

  • visual (sight)
  • auditory (sound)
  • olfactory (smell)
  • gustation (taste)
  • tactile (touch)

There are many other sensations anyone can experience beyond the classic five senses, such as:

  • pounding in the head
  • dizziness, feeling faint
  • construction of the throat
  • upset stomach/nausea
  • sensations of hunger or satiation
  • racing heart
  • tensions in the gut
  • muscle spasms or tenseness
  • visceral sensations of fear
  • sensations of being “creeped out”
  • sense of being watched
  • feeling surreal, dissociated
  • relief
  • terror
  • sense of déjà vu
  • sense of impending doom
  • sensations around being tired or invigorated and energized
  • a sense of movement
  • sensations of warmth or coldness, degrees of humidity
  • pressure (physical, emotional, social, relational)
  • pain
  • itchiness
  • the sensation of being tickled
  • arousal, sexual sensations
  • intuitive sense of another person’s thoughts, feelings or sensations or physical presence before being seen

The following can be a combination of emotion and sensation:

  • empathy
  • joy
  • aching, deep sadness
  • safe
  • in danger
  • threatened
  • hopeless
  • powerless
  • ashamed
  • abandoned

The contents of this page can be downloaded and copied by anyone as long as they credit CNVC as follows: (c) 2005 by Center for Nonviolent Communication. Website: www.cnvc.org Email: cnvc@cnvc.org. Note: There have been some changes made in the sensations list for this blog