Izzy Solvang

Generating Ways to Pause for Teens

Welcome to a social emotional learning (SEL) lesson plan for teenagers about pausing!!!

Do you remember being told to 'calm down' at a time when you were very upset?  Can you recall how that made you feel?  If you are anything like me, it was an infuriating sentiment.  My mind reeled with questions and thoughts like, "Why should I be calm? You're not calm.  You can't control me..." you get the gist.  

Sometimes, being told to pause can have a similar sentiment to being told to calm down, and that is not the desired effect.  Pausing is a learned skill that has the benefits of calming our nervous system, but we have to also acknowledge that it isn't like flipping a light switch.  

Learning to pause takes practice, and to avoid revving up the nervous system by commanding someone to pause, it is incredibly helpful to build that skill in low stress environments.  This normalizes the process and lets everyone explore how it works for them with an awareness that it may be different than for their classmate.  

Let's Dive Into the Lesson

Objective: Practice pausing in low stress environments in order to build muscle memory, awareness, and identify what works.

Materials: A way to show images, whether that is projected, printed, etc., and a way to take notes for the class

Context: This short lesson can be 10-15 minutes long.  To maximize understanding, briefly summarize what pausing is, and its benefits.

  1. Start with a gentle reminder/questions about what pausing is and why we do it.

Pausing is a way to give ourselves space internally, so that we can choose how to respond
instead of reacting using our conditioned habits.   When we practice, it can become a skill that is ready to use when you need it at stressful times. Practicing helps you figure out what works for you and builds brain connections that make it easier over time, just like working out builds muscle memory in your body.

For more information on how to explain pausing, visit our blog post, What Does it Mean to be Mindful?

2. Ask if anyone has intentionally paused recently and if they would be willing to share about their experience.
It's always good to be prepared to share your own example!

3. Ask if anyone has tried to pause, but it didn't work, and if they are willing to share about their experience.
Making space for this shows that it is a practice, and that we are all learning. 
Again, it's good to be prepared to share your own example.

4. Re-enforce the brain science behind why pausing is so powerful.
If you are unfamiliar with this, check out Dan Siegel's Hand Model of the Brain video.

5. Ask about terminology that feels familiar.  Feel free to adopt a new term if it fits your culture. 
 If pausing means giving your nervous system time and space to unwind, are there other words you use to describe it?
Examples: resetting, chilling out, calming down, taking a break.  

6. What are your favorite ways to pause?  Generate 5-10 ideas.
  • Listening to music,
  • Drawing,
  • Going on a walk,
  • Taking a bath,
  • Getting in bed and pulling the covers over your head,
  • Watching something hilarious on YouTube, or
  • Playing a sport

7. We can't necessarily use all our favorite ways depending what context we are in.  Let's pull up some spaces and identify socially acceptable ways we can pause in said places.
A) The Classroom.
What can you do at your desk, in the back of the room, or near the windows that can serve the purpose of pausing?

  • Head down at your desk 
  • Slowly walk to the back of the classroom and then back to your seat
  • Look out the window and find something that's moving to track with your eyes
  • Draw something in your notebook
  • Write down the ways you are feeling

Note: Do any of these behaviors look familiar?  As a teacher, are you sometimes triggered by these behaviors?  Having open conversations with your students about their motivation behind these things can help build empathy and understanding.  You too have a stress response and conditioned behaviors, and that is totally human!

B) The Hallway
  • Walking slowly and feeling your feet on the ground

  • Listening to your favorite song in headphones

  • Walking next to the wall or lockers and feeling the textures as you go

  • Synchronizing your breath and your steps

  • Stretching your body and taking 5 deep breaths

C) The Lunchroom
  • Paying attention to the taste, smell, and feeling of a bit of food
  • Focusing on the sounds around you
  • Holding hands with someone in a comforting way, or simply connect with a friend however feels good to you
  • Listening to all the various sounds in the room 
D) The Digital Classroom
  • Feel how you are sitting in the chair - noticing your body.
  • Focus eyes on something non-stressful, like a favorite mug or poster on the wall.
  • Play with a fidget.
  • Revisit intentions - What is my goal for class today?
8.  End with a reflection.  After generating all these ideas, have students think about, or write which ones resonate with them, and when it could benefit them to practice pausing within their day.   
Re-enforce the idea that it is good to practice skills that calm the nervous system periodically.
Food for thought:
Is there a time of day it would be good to insert a pause as a class?  Right as you settle in?  Right before leaving?  If it is possible to make a 30 sec-5 min pause a part of class, give it a try, and observe the difference it might make in the classroom.  You can try all doing the same pause (today we are all going to doodle for 30 sec, or today we are all going to walk mindfully in in circle around our desk), or have independent pause and breathe time.  Maybe there is a time when you need a pause, so why not all take one together?!