What’s inside this article: The importance of interoception, signs that your child may struggle with interoceptive awareness, and 10 activities/printables/resources that promote the development of interoception.
The interoceptive system is one of the 8 sensory systems in our bodies and it’s definitely the least known and least understood.
However, more and more research about interoception is coming out and it’s now believed that this system may have a huge impact on children with ASD and other conditions, like ADHD and SPD as well.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.
Why is Interoception Important?
Interoception is how we sense our internal state. In other words, it’s all of the
- How we feel emotions
- The urger to use the washroom
- And more
It’s those butterflies in our stomach when we are really nervous.
If your child is currently struggling with any of those things then interoception activities may help them become more in tune with their own bodies.
Related Reading: How Does The Interoceptive System Work?
Does Your Child Struggle With Interoception?
Quickly go through the list to help determine areas your child needs to work on.
- Recognizes when becoming angry
- Recognizes when becoming anxious
- Gets angry and/or anxious easily
- Reacts empathetically to the emotions of others
- When injured, can accurately identify what hurts
- Knows when hungry
- Knows when thirsty
- Recognizes and names own emotions
- Knows when feeling unwell/ill
- Knows when they need to use the toilet
If your child struggles to do some of the things mentioned above, then they may be struggling with interoception or interoceptive awareness.
Interoception Activities for Kids
I’ve put together a list of interoception activities for kids that can be used to help build body awareness and teach kids how to draw their attention to the things happening inside their bodies.
Improving interoceptive awareness may reduce meltdowns and challenging behaviors, and improve self-regulation.
1. Use Exercise as an “Experiment”
A lot of classrooms now have stationary bikes that the students can access. They do this because exercise has been proven to improve focus and reduce distracting sensory seeking behaviors (for example climbing and running).
But you can also use exercise as a little science experiment with your kids for a fun interoception activity.
When your child uses one of those bikes do they ever break a sweat? Probably not – but that’s the goal with this activity.
If you don’t have access to a stationary bike, use this 7-minute kids workout instead.
The goal is to get your child to exert themselves to the point that they begin to sweat, and then when they are done draw attention to all of the sensations in their body since they become more pronounced when you’ve exerted yourself.
For example, they will be able to feel their heart racing, deep breathing, wet forehead, and elevated body temperature.
After 5 minutes of rest, ask them how they feel again because everything will be returning to normal.
2. Hand Stretches
Children struggling with interoception may not notice the difference between tense muscles and resting muscles.
Since muscle tension is a common sign of stress building it’s important to be able to recognize this cue and learn how to relax.
These simple hand stretches demonstrate and help children to recognize the different sensations when muscles are tensed.
- Sit comfortably and gently rest your hands on your lap.
- Lift your hands up, and stretch all your fingers open as far as they will go, holding the stretch for 30 seconds.
- Place your hands back on your lap
- Get your child to show you where they could feel the tension in their hands while their fingers were stretched.
3. Find Your Pulse
Help your child find their own pulse with their hand and counter the number of pulses felt in 1 minute.
Pair this interoception activity with your exercise experiment.
Get your child to write down their pulse immediately after exercise, and again five minutes later.
This can help your child understand the connection between heart rate and arousal levels.
The benefits of yoga are seemingly endless.
As it turns out, yoga activities make great interoception activities for kids. This is because yoga has been proven to reduce stress, improve emotional wellbeing and improves awareness.
I actually spoke to a yoga instructor once who told me it’s not uncommon for people to cry during their first yoga class because it’s such a great stress reliever.
You can try out this fun and easy animal yoga poses any time. No prep required!Kids Yoga Poster
5. Map Your Feelings
Mapping your feelings is all about identifying the different sensations happening in your body when you feel a certain way and marking them all done on a “map” of your body.
The idea is that over time, your child will be able to use their feelings maps to identify what emotions they’re currently feeling as they begin to notice patterns.
For example, after doing this mapping activity they may begin to notice that their face feels hot when they’re angry or that their hands shake when they’re scared.
There are two options when it comes to making your map.
Option one, you can use a large roll of paper and get your child to lay down and trace their entire body. Then you can start coloring, drawing, and labeling different sensations and what emotions they are linked to. We did this activity, you can see all the pictures here.
Option two, you can print several copies of this body map sheet and use them to create a feelings map for each emotion and then save them all together in a folder.Mapping Feelings
Any activities that involve mindfulness make great interoception activities for kids because mindfulness is all about being in the present moment.
The main focus when practicing mindfulness is to bring attention to your breathing, your heart rate, and how your body feels. It’s all about acknowledging and accepting all the sensory experiences presently happening to your body.
My all-time favorite mindfulness activities are from this set of 55 activity cards. These cards are all beautifully illustrated and come with easy to follow instructions for parents and kids to play together.
It can take some time to get your child interested in mindfulness because to kids it seems “boring”, or as my son says “I don’t want to just sit and do nothing”.
So don’t force them; just encourage a few minutes at a time. You will hopefully be able to build up their participation over time.
Related: Mindfulness Activities for ADHD
7. Head-to-Toe Muscle Relaxation
This is actually an activity I learned in mindfulness therapy and is a common one taught in mindfulness groups.
It’s easy to learn and quick to do. Do this with your kids as a little check-in on their bodies and to help draw attention to tense muscles vs. relaxed muscles.
- Sit comfortably with your hands on your lap and your feet on the floor.
- Starting with your feet, tight squeeze all of your muscles, hold for a moment and then release.
- From your feet, move up to squeezing your calves, then your thighs, hips, abdomen.
- Do these muscle squeezes one at a time moving all the way to your head.
You should sit facing your child and giving verbal instructions while participating in this activity with them.
8. How Hungry Am I?
Children who struggle with interoception may struggle with determining if they feel hungry or knowing when they feel full. This may cause children to overeat, or to not eat enough.
Using this “How Hungry Am I?” activity helps kids think about the ways their bodies give them signals telling them when they need to eat. The more kids practice with this activity, the more attuned they will become to their body’s signals.
See the full activity and instructions on here Health Powered Kids
9. Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises help children gain control of their bodies, teaching them awareness and health calm down strategies.
When you’re upset or angry your breathing speeds up. Deep breathing exercises help return your breathing to normal, calming you down at the same time.
10. When I Get Angry
If your child has trouble identifying their early anger cues or seems to get angry quickly, this “When I Get Angry” activity may help them be more aware of what happens to their bodies when they are angry.
Go through the different blocks on the activity sheet with your child and if the statement is true for them when they’re angry, color the block red.
The statements are things like “my face gets hot”, “I cry”, or “my heart beats really fast”.When I Feel Angry…