The key to children’s attention: Somatics

Shelby Parks
4 min readNov 24, 2019

“Without the body there is nothing to reflect upon, to touch, to feel, to think about, to enter into relationship with. Without the body the possibility of contact with others or oneself is simply not possible. It is only through our bodies — our ability to see, hear, touch, sense, taste, feel, gesture, intuit, speak and think — that we are able to be in relationship with our bodies other presence in the world.” - Richard Strozzi-Heckler, The Leadership Dojo

Humanity believes we are cognitive creatures and can live successfully within and through our minds, disregarding all that the body has to teach us. This way of living is an embodiment of societal norms specifically in relation to what we are taught in westernized culture and imprinted on us through the education system.

As children grow up, there is not a balance of the mind and body being taught in school, nor mention of this relation. Rather, the majority of time is spent in a fixed position while children are taught to integrate all that they are learning solely with the mind. The classroom, in particular, truly cuts children off from the intelligence of the body. Most typically children are placed behind a desk and confined to a chair. The child is asked to remain still, even when research and science has declared that movement stimulates the nerve cells that we use to think. Why is this? It is through movement that our attention systems are activated, enabling active attention, as well as longer attention span. And yet the education system, most often, attributes this inability to remain still to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) rather than our own biological need to move. I want to pause here for a moment and acknowledge that ADHD is real and it is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children. That said, whether a child has ADHD or not, all children and humans biologically need to move.

Thus, if we look at our education system and the downward trend of attention span, the problem is simple: children are not allowed to move enough. Sitting in an upright chair that provides no sensory feedback is forced disassociation from the body. The muscle of attention which is required for learning cannot solely be built through cognitive processes in the brain, but needs to be trained and experienced by the body as well.

Somatics teaches us that thoughts, emotions and sensations are all interconnected and therefore influence one another. This embodied understanding presented by somatics is what provides us with the sense of self, as an integrated whole. Interestingly, we know from somatics that if we were to bridge the mind and body back together instead of trying to differentiate them as separate entities that we would be much more successful as a society as a whole, and I would guess healthier and overall happier as well. Yet, this practice as the mind being separate from and more important than the wisdom of the body continues into adulthood through our careers.

If this is true, then how do we begin to bridge this gap? Traditionally when we are taught anatomy, the mind and body are seen as separate entities, but when we reframe this thinking and understand that both are embodied, we can then enter into a new relationship with ourselves, taking in not only the cognitive thoughts, but the messages the body is sharing. Yet, when we disregard the wisdom of the body, in it we also throw out the meaningful messages that embodiment holds; this is the awareness of our internal experiences that moves from sensations, emotions, thoughts and actions that are then interpreted by the mind as stories about how we feel. This is a language we have disconnected from due to the false idea that we are simply creatures who must rationalize with our brains and turn off the sensations that we feel in our bodies. By doing so, we have disconnected from humanity and consequently the world around us. But, we can reconnect with the world around us through somatics.

If somatics is the notion that the mind and body are interconnected and act as one, then it is also what allows us to live in our most authentic state. If we start with the basics of somatic awareness, that is the active listening to our sensations, temperature, pressure, we can use this information as a source of deep knowledge that provides a reflection to connect with ourselves, our values, other humans, other species and the world around us. If we view these sensations as a language that wants to tell us something, we are able to reconnect with ourselves.

And so I leave you with this. The next time a child, or an adult, is experiencing an intense emotion, whether that is sadness, rage, excitement, or whatever it may be, ask them the following:

  • Where in your body are you experiencing that emotion?
  • What does that emotion feel like? Is it heavy or light?
  • Is it moving up towards your head? Or down towards your feet?

By having these conversations, we allow children to reconnect with the intelligence of their body, therefore helping them engage with the world with their full embodied wisdom. Through this reconnection, children not only learn through cognitive processes in the mind, but through full embodied learning, allowing them to be more present by activating attention systems and ultimately a longer attention span.

…and by all means, let children move!

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Shelby Parks

Harmonizing people’s relationship with themselves & the natural world through storytelling.