6 Second Pause

Posted by Kris Baker on 4/5/2019 7:00:00 AM

There are many times throughout a week (or even a day) that I have to slow down, stop myself and take a few deep breaths in order to keep my cool and not lose my mind.  I might use some positive self talk or even just try to think about something else in order to get my mind off whatever it is that is stressing me out, causing anxiety or just plain ticked me off.   I hate to admit it, but a lot of these situations happen when I am driving! This is not something that always comes easy or naturally, but over the course of my 40 plus years, I know I need some strategies to help me calm down when agitated.  Often, many students do not have effective coping or self-regulations skills to maintain an appropriate response to emotionally charged situations. As educators, this behavior is often punished and we fail to see that we need to teach these skills.  

“Emotions are neurohormones; chains of amino acids that flow through the brain and body carrying messages.  Produced primarily in the hypothalamus, these chemicals affect literally every living cell in our bodies serving as part of our master-regulatory function.  Each “burst” of these chemicals, from the time they’re produced, to the time they’re completely broken down and absorbed, last 4-7 seconds. Thus, if we miss the opportunity of those six seconds, we miss the wisdom and energy the feelings offer; also, if we’re feeling something for longer than six seconds, we are – at some level – choosing to recreate and refuel those feelings.” (6seconds.org).  

The goal of the 6 second pause is to help students maintain self-control and effectively self-regulate themselves when facing an escalating situation, or when they are feeling emotionally overwhelmed.  The goal is to support emotional regulation by having students engage their thinking brain while putting their emotions on hold.  During the 6-second pause, the student engages the analytical part of his brain for at least 6 seconds (the minimum about of time needed to create an emotional interruption) by participating in higher-order thinking (goalbookapp.com).  This helps put emotions on hold and activates the problem solving part of the brain which can often be hijacked when emotions are on the rise.  

Students are encouraged to pause, focus on their breathing and activate their “thinking brain” by recalling a list of 6 things they have PREVIOUSLY practiced when learning this coping and mindfulness strategy.  Some suggested methods to activate your “thinking brain” are:

  • List:  your 6 favorite places to go, favorite pizza toppings, favorite movie or book characters, places you want to visit, personal favorites of any kind;
  • Name:  6 states, friends, family members, colors of the rainbow, specific math facts, science facts, sports that do not use a ball, countries, continents; or
  • Try to:  count by 2, 4, 6, or 8, count from 20 backwards by 5, spell your first name backwards, say your phone number backwards,  (goalbookapp.com).  

This is designed to be a proactive strategy so it is ideal to teach this to students and coach them through this at a time when they are cool, calm and collected.  Work with students to identify what they might list, name or “try to” and create a visual for the student to keep when situations and emotions escalate. As the adult, model this strategy in class and think out loud your 6 second strategy for all students to see and hear.  Take time throughout the day to have all students practice their 6 second strategy. Target talk times where they might want to employ this strategy such as before tests, before new situations that may make them nervous, before hard conversations, when new situations arise that they didn’t anticipate, when they meet a conflict, perceive a situation as unfair or receive discipline.  This is just one of many strategies that we can add to our students’ self-regulation tool kits and one that can be used anywhere at anytime.



www.goalbookapp.com - Six Second Pause


Kris Baker, Autism Consultant