Somatic Competency: Supporting Self-Regulation and Behaviour

A Teacher’s Guide to Somatic Competency

In today’s dynamic classrooms, teachers face the ongoing challenge of promoting self-regulation, emotional intelligence, and positive behaviour among their students. One approach gaining traction is developing somatic competency. The ability to perceive, interpret, and respond to internal bodily cues and sensations.

What is Somatic Competency?

Somatic competency, or interoceptive or body awareness, is crucial for children’s well-being and behaviour. By tuning into their physical experiences, children can better understand and regulate their emotions, manage impulses, and navigate sensory challenges. This mind-body connection empowers them to develop self-awareness, self-control, and resilience – essential academic and social skills.

Interoception is the process of sensing and communicating internal bodily signals to the brain. It allows us to perceive and understand our physical and emotional states, like hunger, temperature, pain, fear, or affection. Strong interoceptive awareness, the ability to accurately detect and respond to these internal cues, helps us regulate our emotions, cope with stress, and navigate life’s challenges effectively. Our emotions are closely tied to physical sensations from the body.

Nurturing somatic competency in our students can profoundly impact their ability to learn, focus, and interact positively with peers and their surroundings. This article explores the concept of somatic competency, its relationship to children’s behaviour, and practical strategies for cultivating this invaluable skill.

The Somatic-Behaviour Connection

Somatic competency refers to an individual’s capacity to perceive and interpret physical sensations and signals arising within their body, such as muscle tension, breath patterns, heart rate, temperature changes, and other physiological responses. It’s the ability to “listen” to the body’s language and respond accordingly.

Children with well-developed somatic competency can:

  • Recognize and respond to internal states of dysregulation (anxiety, frustration, sensory overwhelm)
  • Employ strategies like deep breathing or sensory breaks to regain calm and balance

Conversely, those who struggle with somatic awareness may have difficulty identifying and managing emotions, leading to challenges with impulse control and self-regulation.

Somatic competency plays a pivotal role in shaping children’s behaviour and well-being in several key ways:

  1. Self-regulation: Strong somatic awareness allows children to recognize physiological precursors to emotional dysregulation or impulsive behaviours (muscle tension, rapid breathing, racing heart). This awareness signals them to pause and employ self-regulation strategies before acting in ways that could be labelled as challenging behaviour.
  2. Emotional awareness and expression: By tuning into physical manifestations of emotions (e.g., tightness in the chest during sadness, warmth during happiness), children can better identify and communicate their feelings, leading to more appropriate emotional expression.
  3. Impulse control: Somatic competency enables children to recognise physiological signs of impulsivity or reactive behaviours, allowing them to pause and make mindful choices.
  4. Sensory integration: For children with sensory processing differences, somatic awareness helps them recognize and modulate responses to sensory input, engaging in calming or alerting activities based on perceived bodily sensations. This prevents sensory overload or under-arousal that could lead to challenging behaviours.
  5. Mind-body connection: Developing somatic competency helps children understand the interconnectedness of their physical, emotional, and cognitive experiences, contributing to better decision-making, emotional regulation, and overall well-being – positively impacting behaviour.

Classroom Strategies for Cultivating Somatic Competency:

As educators, we have a unique opportunity to nurture somatic competency in our students, equipping them with invaluable skills for self-awareness, self-regulation, and positive behaviour. People often use multiple emotional regulation strategies together, like trying to reframe a situation while also suppressing emotional expression. More research is needed on the combined use of different emotional regulation techniques. As strategies may interact to impact emotional outcomes differently. For example, adaptive strategies like reappraisal may be more effective when used alongside techniques like acceptance, rather than maladaptive strategies like rumination or avoidance. So it is unlikely that using just one of these strategies will be fully effective. We need to teach our students a range of techniques and practice over and over.

Mindfulness Practices

  • Body Scans: Guide students through exercises directing attention to different body parts, noticing sensations or areas of tension.
  • Breath Awareness: Teach students to focus on their breath, observing the rise and fall of their belly or the sensation of air entering and leaving their nostrils.
  • Mindful Movement: Incorporate gentle yoga poses or stretches, encouraging students to notice how their bodies feel during each movement.

Sensory Integration Activities

  • Proprioceptive Input: Incorporate activities providing deep pressure input (wall pushes, resistance band exercises, carrying heavy objects within safe limits).
  • Vestibular Activities: Engage students in gentle rocking, swinging, or spinning to stimulate the vestibular system and promote body awareness.
  • Sensory Bins: Create bins filled with various textures (rice, beads, shredded paper) for students to explore and engage their tactile senses.

Yoga and Brain Breaks

  • Yoga Poses: Guide students through simple yoga poses, encouraging them to notice how their muscles feel during stretches and holds.
  • Brain Breaks: Implement short bursts of physical activity (jumping jacks, arm circles, stretches) to help students re-energize and reconnect with their bodies.

Emotion Identification and Body Mapping

  • Emotion Charades: Have students act out emotions, and encourage peers to identify the emotion and associated physical sensations.
  • Body Mapping: Provide body outlines for students to colour or label areas representing specific emotions (butterflies in the stomach for nervousness, tightness in the chest for sadness).

Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Tension Release

  • Tense and Release: Guide students through tensing and releasing various muscle groups (hands, arms, shoulders, legs), encouraging them to notice the sensations.
  • Shake It Out: After focused work or high-energy activities, have students stand and gently shake out their limbs, releasing built-up tension.

Guided Imagery and Visualization

  • Nature Walk: Guide students through a visualized nature walk, encouraging them to imagine sights, sounds, and physical sensations (warmth of the sun, grass beneath their feet).
  • Safe Place Visualization: Have students visualize a calm, safe place, noticing the physical sensations associated with this relaxed state.

Somatic Storytelling and Role-Playing

  • Story Cueing: As you read aloud, pause at key moments for students to act out or mimic the physical sensations characters might experience.
  • Emotion Charades: Have students act out emotions or scenarios, and encourage peers to identify the emotion and associated physical sensations.

Incorporating Somatic Practices into Routines and Transitions

  • Morning Check-In: Start each day with a brief mindfulness or body awareness activity, setting the tone for self-awareness and regulation.
  • Transition Times: During transitions between activities or subjects, lead students through a quick breathing exercise or gentle movement break to help them reset and reconnect with their bodies.

Creating a Supportive Classroom Environment

Beyond implementing specific strategies and techniques, crafting a classroom environment that supports and encourages the development of somatic competency is essential. We have written several posts on developing an inclusive classroom environment but here are 8 tips:

  1. Model Somatic Awareness: As the teacher, openly discuss your physical sensations, and emotions, and how you manage them. This normalizes the experience and demonstrates the importance of tuning into one’s body.
  2. Incorporate Sensory Supports: Provide sensory tools and resources (fidget toys, weighted lap pads, calming corners) to help students self-regulate and manage sensory needs.
  3. Acknowledge Progress and Effort: Regularly recognize and celebrate students’ efforts in developing somatic competency, reinforcing the importance of this skill and encouraging continued growth.
  4. Collaborate with Families: Engage families in understanding the importance of somatic competency and its impact on their child’s behaviour and well-being. Provide resources and suggestions for reinforcing somatic awareness practices at home, creating a consistent and supportive environment.
  5. Nurture a Safe and Inclusive Space: Create an atmosphere where students feel comfortable exploring and expressing their emotions and physical experiences without fear of judgment or ridicule. Establish clear guidelines for respectful communication and maintain confidentiality when discussing personal experiences.
  6. Embrace Neurodiversity: Recognize that each student may have unique sensory needs and experiences. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach and be open to adapting strategies and accommodations to meet the diverse needs of your students, particularly those with neurodevelopmental differences or sensory processing challenges.
  7. Encourage Student Input: Involve students in creating a supportive classroom environment. Seek their feedback on resonant strategies and tools, and incorporate their suggestions when possible. This builds a sense of ownership and empowerment.
  8. Promote Self-Compassion: Emphasize that developing somatic competency is an ongoing process, and setbacks or challenges are natural and expected. Encourage students to treat themselves with kindness and patience, recognizing that progress takes time and consistent practice.


Cultivating somatic competency in the classroom is an invaluable investment in the overall well-being and success of our students. As teachers, we hold the power to equip children with the foundational skills of self-awareness, self-regulation, and emotional intelligence. These tools will serve them throughout school and into adulthood.

Every small step forward is a victory worth celebrating. Remain patient, compassionate, and persistent in your efforts, for the rewards of nurturing somatic competency are immeasurable.

When we teach children to listen to their bodies, we open the door to a lifetime of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and the ability to navigate life’s challenges.

Somatic Competency: Supporting Self-Regulation and Behaviour

References Used

Porges S. (2011). The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundation of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-Regulation. New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company – Link to a powerpoint presentation.

Price, C. J., & Hooven, C. (2018). Interoceptive Awareness Skills for Emotion Regulation: Theory and Approach of Mindful Awareness in Body-Oriented Therapy (MABT). Frontiers in Psychology, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00798

Webb T. L., Miles E., Sheeran P. (2012). Dealing with feeling: a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of strategies derived from the process model of emotion regulationPsychol. Bull. 138 775–808. 10.1037/a0027600

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