Motion Changes Emotion: One Parenting Phrase That Actually Helps In the Moment

by Jessica Graham April 01, 2016

The One Parenting Phrase That Actually Helps In the Moment

There are a lot of mantras for parents out there. We’re all familiar with those child-rearing phrases that are said by parents, or more often, to them. “They’re only little once.” “They days are long, but the years are short.” “It only lasts a season.” These mantras are helpful if you’re taking the long-view. But when a child is wailing because they can’t get on their shoe or because they’re tired but won’t get in the stroller and sleep, it isn’t helpful to state the obvious. The parent knows they’re only little once. That’s not the problem. The problem is that they’re little now. Consider the wisdom of “it only lasts a season” when applied to childhood. It’s true. Kids grow and change and mature, often rapidly. The difficulties of today won’t always exist. You can see that when you are able to view the circumstances with perspective. But you can’t always see it when you’re trying to help a struggling child sound out C-A-T in the H-A-T again. Sometimes winter is long and cruel, and then there’s a blizzard in April. When you’re in the thick of it, a season can feel eternal.

Motion Changes Emotion

So what one mantra is helpful? It’s a truth that, like most things, goes beyond the parent/child relationship and applies to life in general. It is: Motion changes emotion. We are told that when an argument gets heated, we should walk away. But have you ever thought about why this advice is effective? It works not only because it puts physical distance between you and the problematic situation, but it also sets your body in motion increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Motion changes emotion is a phrase that parents should keep in their back pockets. Instead of just standing there and counting to ten and observing your child not doing what you asked, in the middle of an impasse – move! Walk to the bedroom, go to the mailbox or take a spin in the backyard. Sometimes you aren’t the only one who needs to move. If you can’t get the kids to clean up, instead of nagging repeatedly, throw on some music and let them boogie for a minute and then clean. (Hint: Spotify has a dance party station and a kids dance party station or check out the Jammin Minute videos on YouTube.) Employ the same technique when a child is feeling overwhelmed or gets stuck doing homework. Take a walk around the block. Ride bikes. Jump rope. When you start homework again, your child won’t magically understand fractions, but at least their brain and body will be more receptive to trying again. Wise teachers frequently employ movement breaks in the classroom. When the class as a whole gets disruptive or frustrated over the lesson, a smart teacher will have them stand and “shake it off” or for older kids take a stretch break. Why do they do this? Because motion changes emotion.

Moving gives our minds and bodies a chance to “reboot.”

It’s a powerful technique to help resolve immediate problems but it also has long-term benefits, like teaching self-control and emotion regulation. When in doubt, move!

Jessica Graham


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