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Rhythmic, Repetitive, Relational, Somatosensory

July 29, 2019

Strengthening the foundation of the brain.

The brainstem is developed, soothed, and repaired through experiences that are rhythmic, repetitive, relational, and somatosensory (Bruce Perry, MD, PhD).

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Think about it…if the brain develops from the bottom up and the inside out (Perry) then the brainstem is the first part of the brain to fully develop.  (I blogged about this HERE just last week…)

This part of the brain is really coming together in utero and shortly after birth…when babies are getting a lot of what?  Rhythmic, repetitive, relational, somatosensory experiences.  Floating in a cushy bed of amniotic fluid while mama walks is HIGHLY rhythmic, repetitive, relational, and somatosensory.  Every part of baby is having a deep sensory experience while being completely enveloped by amniotic fluid.  And how about the always-present beat of mama’s heart?  The average human heart rate is the perfect tempo for regulation!!!

With tiny babies, we swaddle, we hold, we wrap up…we pick up, put down, rock, bounce.  All I have to do is take hold of a baby doll and I’m almost instantly bobbing up and down.  Watch new parents looking at the dairy wall in the grocery store…staring at a sea of yogurt options, bleary eyed and struggling to even remember what’s on their list….and gently bobbing up and down with a little bend in their knees while holding baby close to their chest.

These instinctual ways of being with a baby are continuing to support the development and regulation of the brainstem.

For YEARS children are focused on rhythmic, repetitive, relational, somatosensory experiences.  They run, jump, hop, skip, roll balls back and forth….the DANCE!!!  As more and more of their brain comes on-line and they develop more and more gross motor skills and capacities, they continue to engage in regulating and brain-building activities.  We are designed for this!!

This is truly some of my favorite research when it comes to brain development because we can harness the powers of rhythmic, repetitive, relational, somatosensory activities when helping children who experienced traumatic, stressful, or neglectful early caregiving.  Too much harsh sensory input, or too little sensory input, delayed the development of a strong foundation of the brain.

When the foundation is shaky, everything collapses in a moment, with seemingly little stress.

One of the most important things we can do with children who have experienced early complex trauma or toxic stress is PLAY WITH THEM, thinking about the concepts of rhythmic, repetitive, relational, and somatosensory.  Playgrounds!  Balls.  Catch.  Race to the end of the driveway.  Skip everywhere!  Blow cottonballs back and forth.  Dance and drum!!!  Fill up a bin of water beads and hide ‘treasures’ inside.  BUT!!!  Don’t forget about the crucial importance of RELATIONAL!!!  We have to play WITH them.  Engaging in the rhythm of relationship, the back-and-forth serve-and-return that happens when two people come together.  That’s a non-negotiable piece of this equation.

Kids starting to melt-down and lose their mind??  MOVE THEIR BODY!  Add a yoga ball to homework time.  Keep these ‘Get Moving’ cards nearby and have them draw two every five minutes.  Be sure your child is drinking (something thick is great!!!) or maybe has a crunchy snack or thick bubble gum.  All of these experiences are what???  Rhythmic, repetitive, relational, somatosensory.

Adding in more movement will probably not solve ALL of your problems, but I can almost guarantee it will bring SOME regulation.  And it sure is a lot more fun and easier on your relationship than lectures and consequences.  Especially because these activities are regulating for us too 🙂  We are more likely to smile, be relaxed, and tolerate stress when WE are engaging in these activities too!!  Which is nothing but very, very good for you, your child, and your relationship.

Be creative…have fun…ENJOY!!


PS If these ideas are piquing your interest, you may like my five-hour in-depth online webinar series that starts next week “Regulating the Body with Sensory Based Interventions.”  You don’t have to attend live- all registrants will receive unlimited and lifetime access to the recordings!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Robert Hafetz permalink
    July 29, 2019 11:00 am

    The main theme hers is experiential interventions work no verbal or cognitive ones. However in order to reach the next step in healing the experience must be used to create a narrative.

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