10 ways to help your teen focus by activating their senses
Help your teen get motivated, find focus, increase productivity, concentrate on their studies, settle anxiety, manage exam stress, control their emotions, relax and sleep well – all by tapping into their sensory experiences. Click here to download our ideas sheet with links and examples of some of the products discussed in this article.
Can engaging the senses help us get more done and feel better?
We use our five senses every day, but are we actively engaging them? In other words, are we paying attention to our sensory experiences and, if not, would it make a difference if we did? Apparently, the answer is a resounding yes. The more thoughtful we are in how we experience the world (not just what we experience), the better we can control and choose those experiences, leading to greater focus and happiness.
This means anyone can take a few intentional steps to paying more attention to their senses to get more done and feel better. Which is great news if you’re parenting a bored teen.
The power of colour
Different colours stimulate different receptors in the mind. Red is energizing, blue is calming, green is relaxing, yellow is stimulating. Colours vibrate at different frequencies, so they give off different energies. We’re also culturally trained to associate colours with certain situations, which also triggers instinctive emotive reactions. In Western cultures red is for passion, anger, danger (think red Ferrari); pink evokes romance and femininity; yellow is sunshine bright – a smiley, upbeat colour that sparks joy; green is for nature and healing; blue links to serenity, calm, communications and often represents the emotions (singing the blues, feeling blue, having a blue fit).
This means we can actively use colour to create responses that tend towards behaviours we would like to encourage. If your teen seems listless, bored and unenergized, try including reds and oranges in their workspace to increase energy. By contrast, if they’re climbing the walls and finding it difficult to relax, introduce blues and greens to reduce stimulation. Looking to get creative? Yellow inspires creativity and encourages conversation.
We can finesse this system by introducing different colours throughout the day depending on what we’re trying to achieve. Bright lights and reds/oranges during the morning, dim lights and blues/greens to aid relaxation at night.
Accessing colour at home
There’s no need to create a multi-colour palace at home to get the benefits of colour therapy!
You can introduce colour in subtle ways. For students, notebooks are a terrific, versatile choice. Use coloured notebooks depending on what they’re trying to achieve or how the colour makes them feel. For example, Maths and science might suit red notebooks for focus and energy, or try blue if they find those subjects stressful and need to feel calmer when they tackle them. Yellow and orange would be great for languages and subjects where they’re writing creatively. Why not improve their perception of subjects they like least by using books with their favourite colours, rather than keeping favourite colours for favourite things? Multi colour sticky notes, pens, pencils and desk accessories are all inexpensive ways to get bursts of colours into your teen’s daily routine.
Clothes are a straightforward way to express intentions for the day. It’s no co-incidence that “work out” clothes often include bright neon colours. These bright colours encourage activity and action. Wearing brighter colours in the day and softer colours at night sets the right mood for how we’re hoping to feel. There’s no need to invest in a whole new wardrobe – nor get changed several times during the day! Zoom me in the morning, I’ll be wearing my lockdown uniform of jeans, jumper and coloured jacket; by early evening, I’ll have swapped the jacket for a cosy, black hoodie. We can use scarves, socks, jumpers and even underwear to focus the mind on the vibe we’re trying to achieve. The texture of what we wear has impact too, and we’ll touch on that later.
Changing the light settings can also create different moods and enable the same space to feel very different. This is useful if your teen’s using their bedroom for both study and relaxing. Use dimmers and side lights to change lighting levels instantly. We don’t recommend candlelight in any teenager’s room, but there are some fantastic indoor fairy lights that can change the colour and ambience in special corners. Try stringed fairy wires popped into clear empty bottles as an evening focal point, batteries are stored in “bottle cork” tops, so there are no unsightly wires or dangerous leads to trip over. Or, a personal favourite, a laser light plugged into the laptop USB drive; it creates a plethora of mini spots across walls, ceiling and floor – depending where it’s positioned. These are simple, inexpensive ways to instantly change the look and feel of a room.
The power of touch
Touch is an underrated sense, and it can have a huge impact on how we feel. A cosy, soft blanket can make us feel warm, comforted and cuddly; picking up a sharp, smooth book can make us feel renewed, refreshed and ready for action.
Experiments have shown that drinking the exact same coffee from a polystyrene cup can result in perceiving the coffee as cheap, thin and unappealing, yet when the same people drink the same coffee from a rounded, weighty china cup they found the coffee luxurious, expensive and tasty. The product didn’t change. It’s the perception of taste based on the expectation created by the feel of the container. If it applies to coffee, it can apply to anything. By using the senses to trigger positive thoughts and emotions, the mind is automatically focused on a positive trajectory, making it much more likely to achieve a positive experience thereafter.
If we go back to thinking about sports clothes, fabrics for active wear are often stiffer, smoother and accessorized with plenty of zips, poppers, buttons and pulls. Compare this to clothes for gentle exercising (think yoga and Pilates), which are often soft, flowing and with no accessories. The mind assesses the texture and feel of an outfit and prepares the body to respond accordingly. For this reason, don’t let your teen lounge around in pyjamas or their most comfortable clothes all day, especially if they are meant to be doing school work. It will encourage them to feel too relaxed to sit up, pay attention and stay alert. Conversely, wearing the same clothes night and day won’t help them get in the right mindset ahead of bedtime. That doesn’t mean they have to wear super smart clothes every day, but structured outfits, such as jeans, tee shirt and a jumper are preferable to leggings and a hoodie. It can also help differentiate weekdays from weekends.
I love turning crystal palm-stones when I’m concentrating. Not only do they come in an array of gorgeous colours (imbibed with the various properties associated with each crystal) but they feel fantastic too. It’s also a good exercise for fingers that spend too long wrapped around a mouse! Teenage equivalents include stress balls, stretchy string and massage rings.
The experience of taste is closely linked to smell, sight and texture (take the coffee example we used earlier) so it’s difficult to look at it on its own. Many people experience a change in taste as they grow older. Foods they once loved no longer hold any appeal or foods they disliked become favourites. Young people prefer sweet tastes and smells compared to adults, hence products aimed at teens often include sweet and fruity flavours, including drinks and perfumes.
Like music, scent can transport us to a totally different time and place instantly – which is very helpful right now, when we’re stuck in a rut! Used in the right way, it’s a powerful mood influencer. Any scent associated with happy times will immediately trigger those receptors in the brain whenever we smell it, regardless of where we are and what we’re doing. If we have happy memories of childhood days spent at the beach, scents of the ocean, candy floss or sun cream could well make us smile and feel good. Using scents inside the home that we know we love from outdoor or holiday experiences will help fire up good-vibe feelings.
Essential oils are an easy way to introduce powerful scents into your life and you get to choose which combinations you use. Look for 100% pure essential oils, rather than less expensive versions which are diluted in carrier oils. Bear in mind essential oils have a shelf life, so they don’t last indefinitely. Over time, they’ll lose their scent and potency, but once opened, store them in a cool dark place and most will last up to three years, some even longer. Light clean scents (such as citrus and grass) aid focus and concentration, whereas soft floral smells (such as lavender and camomile) promote relaxation. Cinnamon and vanilla can be comforting and great for reducing stress, whereas rosemary, basil and thyme are stimulating and help to pep up flagging energy levels.
An easy way to get scents into the home is to invest in a diffuser and burn different individual or combinations of essential oils according to what you’re trying to achieve. If you live somewhere with hard water, use bottled water or filtered water to avoid limescale build up. My atomizer works double duty, infusing beautiful smells and dualling as a soft, feature light. Since I can use either function separately, I often leave the atomizer burning during the day and use only the light function in the evenings. With a safety off switch (should the water burn dry), it’s a safe option for teenage bedrooms.
You don’t need to invest in a diffuser to benefit from essential oils. Dilute a few drops in water and use as a refreshing room spray. Add a drop or two to a tissue, then tuck it up a sleeve or under a pillow. Mix with a carrier oil (such as rosehip or olive) and create a lovely massage or treatment oil. Splash a few drops in the bath. Other than lavender and tea tree, don’t use essential oils directly on the skin – they’re too potent. Some essential oils are ready mixed (for example, to promote mindfulness, sleep, creativity or calm) and are available in handy roller-ball options to rub over pulse points. I love slipping one in my backpack so I can get a burst of vibrant freshness to perk me up when I’m on the go. Our favourite diffusers and oils are here
Sound it out
No matter our starting mood, certain music can make us feel happy or sad, so use it to your advantage. Whilst we encourage turning off music if your teen’s attending online lessons, listening to music while their studying helps some teens concentrate, so allow them to make their own choices. That said, listening to uplifting music during the day, and soothing music in the evening will help tie into their natural circadian rhythms. If they’re sharing space with lots of others, ear buds and headphones allow individuals to enjoy their own music without annoying everybody else. They can also help cancel out irritating background noise, such as traffic, chatter or the neighbours!
Sounds of nature can also be soothing. Whether it’s rainfall, wind in the mountains, the sea, birdsong or tropical storms, there’s an app with variations to enjoy.
Feed the senses
Food is a way of creating sensory experiences for all five senses at once. When we eat, we absorb how the food looks, its texture, the smell, taste and even the sound (hence the popularity of Snap, Crackle and Pop). Exploit this by eating a rainbow of colours (different coloured foods have different vitamin/mineral quantities, so it’ll help balance the diet too), mixing flavours and textures. Introduce international foods to the family menu, perhaps trying a different nationality of food once a week and experience new flavours alongside a tantalising world tour without stepping outside of the house.
Setting positive intentions leads to positive behaviours
It’s remarkable how simple steps can make a huge difference. Experiment at home by introducing one or two ideas at a time and see what impact they make and which ones you like best. Have fun with it and try to get the whole family involved.
Remember, the mind is constantly seeking confirmation. Pro-actively using positive triggers to set and reinforce positive intentions leads to the mind registering matches and ignoring non-matches. At first, it may be our perception of the day that improves, as we start to notice good things that have happened and stop thinking about bad. This, in itself, will make us feel better. As using triggers becomes habitual and embedded into our routine, the positive linkages will happen automatically. Eventually, this mindset will shift our behaviours to achieve better outcomes.
This article is not sponsored. It was inspired by personal experience and Russell Jones’ fabulous book, Sense. Click here to take a look.
If you’re interested in buying any of the items we mention, click here or download the pdf below for some things we use personally. We may receive a small commission on some items if you use our links. We put this towards continuing to provide regular free content on The Parents’ Guide to.