4,3,2,1: Reorienting Students’ Attention to Manage Difficult Emotions

Emotions can come on strong, making it difficult to think or respond. This is especially true when it comes to anger or fear. Students can have strong visceral reactions—their hands can get clammy, their heartbeat can quicken, they can get aches, and they can feel heat rising in their body. All of this can make it extremely hard to think and focus during class.

Helping students pause and notice the sensations in their body and then reorienting their attention can help them settle and create enough space to manage their emotions and the sensations they’re feeling.

Try this 4-3-2-1 strategy to help students navigate strong emotions. In this activity students use their sense of sight, hearing, and touch as well as their breath to ease any sense of overwhelm they might be feeling.

4,3,2,1 Lesson

Tell students when they notice a strong emotion taking hold in their mind and body to:

FOUR:  Find four blue or green objects in their surroundings and take a couple of breaths when they’ve found them.  Reorienting their focus can help them settle and blue and green are considered soothing colors.

THREE: Shift attention and notice three sounds outside of the space they’re in. Do they notice kids talking, birds chirping, wind blowing, or people walking?

TWO: Shift attention and notice two sounds inside the room and continue to be mindful of the breath. Do they hear any sounds they hadn’t noticed before?

ONE:  Place one hand over the chest and/or belly. Do they feel their heart beat or their breath moving through their body?

After completing the activity ask students to notice other sensations in their body.

Are their palms sweaty?  Has their breathing slowed or the heartbeat evened out? If they still notice strong sensations associated with the emotion they’re feeling, they can repeat the exercise until they feel ready to move on.

Share with your community!

Lead your students through the this lesson and ask them to let you know when they’ve used the 4-3-2-1 strategy. Or try to use it yourself! What happened? Share with fellow teachers in your school or on social media with #mindfulschools.

Based on a lesson designed by Jelena Popovic, a graduate of the 2016 Year-Long Certification Program.

We use cookies to personalize content and ads, and to analyze our traffic. To learn more, please visit our Privacy Policy.