Not a lot of people have heard of interoception. If this term is new to you, let me explain. Interoception is one of our senses — it’s how we sense the internal state of our bodies. You can read in detail how interoception works here. If you’re looking for ways to improve interoceptive awareness, this post explains how to build interoception with a body check chart.
Body Check Chart – Activities to Build Interoception
The interoceptive system controls our autonomic body movements, such as blinking, flinching, and breathing. It’s also how we feel and experience sensations inside our bodies, from hunger and thirst to our emotions. That experience is called interoceptive awareness.
Basically, that means the awareness of our bodies internal state.
Interoceptive awareness plays a huge role in self-regulation. Self-regulation is essentially the act of achieving and maintaining homeostasis.
If interoceptive awareness is off-balance, such as experiencing interoception too little, or too much, it will be extremely difficult to self-regulate.
Interoception and Identifying Emotions
One problem a lot of kids have is identifying emotions.
They have emotions, and they feel those emotions in their body. But the problem is that they can’t connect the two together to understand what’s happening. So basically what you see is just an intense reaction
It takes time for children to learn to pay attention to their body’s signals, recognize patterns in those signals, and then identify each with a particular emotion. Then it takes even more time for them to learn appropriate behaviors and strategies for those emotions.
One way to help your child to start making these connections is with a body check chart.
Making a Body Check Chart
Making a body check chart is easy.
- Roll out a large piece of paper on the floor.
- Tape down the corners, so it doesn’t roll up or move.
- Have your child lay on their back on the paper and trace their body. You’ll probably have to touch up the outline to smooth it out a little.
That’s it! This is your child’s own body check chart, drawn based on their own body. There are many different interoception activities you can do with this chart.
Interoception Activities with the Body Check Chart
There are a variety of activities you can do with the body check chart to help build interoceptive awareness, depending on your child’s abilities.
Body Awareness Activities
These are good starting activities before getting into the emotional aspects of interoception.
- Point to different body parts on your child’s chart and have them wiggle that body part on their actual body. This shows you that your child understands their chart and how it is connected to their body.
- Play a game of Simon Says using the chart. Use actions like clench your fists, breath really hard, touch your heart, etc. Ask them to point to the body parts on the chart they used for each action.
- Turn their chart into a self-portrait, getting them to draw all of their body parts on their chart so it’s not just an outline. If they can spell, they may label the parts as well, if not pictures are fine.
- Point to a body part on their body check chart and ask them how it feels right now. For example, eyes: they could be itchy, sleepy, awake, dry, watery, etc.
This is my daughter’s self-portrait
Self-awareness and Emotional Regulation Activities
These activities help children start building a deeper understanding between the sensations in their bodies and the emotions they’re feeling.
- Drawing their feelings: Use different color markers for each feeling and ask your child, one at a time, to color or draw where they feel those feelings in their body. A good one to start with is hunger, because your body signals hunger by your stomach growling. It’s an easy one for kids and it will show you if they understand what you’re asking or not.
These are my kids’ charts, they are 3-years old and 5-years-old. We used red for anger, blue for sadness, orange for happiness,
- Identifying positive sensations: Hang up their body check chart on their bedroom door and use it to prompt your child to check in on their body and their feelings regularly. For example, after positive experiences like running outside, after a warm bath, after a meal, etc. Get them to show you on the body check chart where they feel those feelings.
They may identify their heart beating fast and feeling the sweat on their forehead after running around outside. Likewise, they should identify a fullness in their stomach after eating, or warm skin and wrinkly fingers after the bath.
- Identifying negative sensations: After your child’s comfortable identifying positive experiences with their body check chart, you can start promoting them to identify negative feelings as well. This is particularly helpful if your child has difficulty communicating things like feeling sick or being in pain somewhere.
Start by pointing out things you can observe and encourage them to show you what they’re feeling. For example “Your hands are shaking and your heart is beating fast. Are you scared?”
How Does the Body Check Chart Help Interoception?
A lot of children with atypical sensory processing don’t feel the sensations in their body until they become intense.
For example, they don’t notice they are hungry until they’re starving and want to eat right now! Likewise, they may overeat because they can’t tell when they’re full until they are really full.
Or, they don’t notice they need to use the washroom until it’s urgent so they run to the washroom and frequently have accidents. Another example is the child who never feels cold, or never feels pain.
Using a body check chart improves interoceptive awareness because it gets children thinking about their body’s. Over time children become more aware of the messages their body sends them and what those messages mean so they can deal with them sooner, and improve self-regulation.
Want more interoception ideas? Check out these 9 interoception activities for kids.
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