With yet another disaster to cause us stress, children add more stress to their already stressful lives. Rick Hanson posted his “Pet the Lizard” exercise for adults in his recent newsletter. I adapted it for kids to use at home and in the classroom as a way to help kids to quell their fears.
Materials: Lizard puppet or toy, crayons or markers
Time: 2 Minutes
Why it works
It’s natural to feel threatened sometimes. And if there are also hurricanes, earthquakes, mass shootings, or other alarming events, kids not only have access to this news but pick up on a generalized perception of threat from adults around them as well. They can be more aware than ever of the little primal scared place inside. In the brain, this is often referred to as the “lizard brain.” the part that evolved to respond to a potential threat and the fundamental need for safety. “Pet the lizard” is an exercise created by Rick Hanson to calm and sooth that frightened place inside us all. We’ve adapted it for kids using a concrete prop: the lizard.
What to say
1. Begin by describing the frightened little place in all of us that gets very nervous when scary things happen.
2. Introduce the lizard as the metaphor. We all have a tiny lizard inside
of us, that gets frightened when it feels scared.
3. Have the lizard talk about what happens to its body when it feels scared: muscles get tense, it holds the breath, maybe hands cover the face, perhaps tears come.
4. Ask the kids to position their bodies as if frightened like the lizard.
5. Now take three deep breaths and relax your muscles.
6. Tell the lizard that it is ok, and let go of tension in your muscles with each breath.
7. Rest in this position for a few moments.
8. Repeat during the day to release anxiety and sooth the lizard.
Some have likened the mind/brain to a kind of committee. Rick Hanson thinks “it’s more like a jungle! We can’t get rid of the critters in there – they’re hardwired into the brain – but we can tame and guide them. Then, as the bumper sticker says, they wag more and bark less.” Children love caring for the lizard. Their natural compassion and caring natures come out, and in the meantime, they are taking care of themselves. Leave time for hugging the lizard!
Kids will feel their bodies move from tense to relaxed. Practicing this, even when there is no threat, will build their body awareness and ability to tune in and attend its needs.