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Safety and Security

Teaching Resilience

Teaching Resilience

The Rabbit Pose

Safety drills are a necessary reality in schools today and most students and adults take them in stride as part of the usual school routine. Even when students know they are just participating in a drill it can still trigger a fight, flight, or freeze response, especially for individuals carrying a history of trauma or dealing with the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences. 

We often tell people to remain calm during an emergency but rarely teach them how to remain calm.  By teaching mindfulness skills during safety drills we can leverage existing opportunities to build resilience in students and adults that will benefit them beyond the drills themselves. Learning mindfulness will strengthen the student’s ability to think clearly even in the midst of an emergency.  These skills can be the difference between life and death in an emergency and will also reduce stress during a drill.

1.  BASIC BRAIN SCIENCE EXPLAINS HOW TO REMAIN CALM.

As part of our teaching safety procedures, briefly explain what happens in the brain when it senses danger. Students and adults alike can relate to “flipping one’s lid” under stress, teachers can use Dr. Dan Siegel's “hand model” of the brain.  Even the youngest children can understand the functions of the brain and learn skills for self-regulation.  Once a student understands what is happening in their mind and body, they can “name it to tame it.” When a student can identify anxiety as it arises, they are better equipped to use strategies like mindful breathing to reduce their anxiety rather than be overtaken by it.  

2. INTEGRATE YOGA POSES

Our SRP recommends young children assume the “Rabbit pose” during a lockdown. With head below the heart and a curved spine, this position naturally relaxes the body. Take long, deep breaths to activate the relaxation response. Another benefit to this pose is the elimination of the visual stimuli that can cause hyper-vigilance. Children are taught to take short peeks and then return to a relaxed position. At the end of safety drills, be sure to take time to discharge built-up energy. Students can shake their arms, legs, and heads, or better yet, take a brisk walk outside to help the nervous system bounce back to healthy, balanced functioning.

3. PRACTICE MINDFUL BREATHING.

Mindful breathing can promote calm even in stressful circumstances. When we feel frightened – and especially if we are trying to be very quiet – we automatically hold our breath or take shallow breaths. Practicing mindful breathing equips us to override this tendency. Mindful breathing reduces anxiety by oxygenating the blood and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, a key part of the brain for calming functions. One technique is called Starfish Breathing, Finger Breathing or Breath Tracking. This involves tracing the outline of the fingers of one hand with the index finger of the other in sync with one’s breathing. Once students are familiar with this practice, they will more easily follow a teacher’s visual prompt of holding up a hand and tracing it even in the midst of a silent drill or actual emergency.  To learn the technique see my blog on Finger Breathing.

4. FOLLOW THE ADVICE OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS EVERYWHERE.

“Secure your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others.” 

The vital role of trusted adults during a drill or emergency cannot be understated. Because students’ nervous systems are still developing, they look to the mature people around them for guidance and emotional stability.  If a teacher or parent offers a non-anxious presence in the midst of stressful circumstances, students will tend to feel less anxious themselves. It is critically important for the adults in our students' lives to have opportunities to develop self-awareness, self-regulation, and resilience. 

Unfortunately, emergencies and crises are an inevitable part of life. Accepting this fact and doing one’s best to prepare makes good sense.  Mindfulness helps us courageously turn toward unpleasant realities and meet them with wisdom and stability.  We are all in this together, and the safety of our students depends on our active and mindful engagement.

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