5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique: Using Our Sensory System to Calm Anxiety

The 54321 grounding technique is a tool children can use when feeling anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed.  This technique can help to prevent multiple anxious thoughts from piling up by focusing on your surroundings in the present moment.   It calls for you to tap into a heightened awareness of your environment, fully taking in your five senses and grounding your thoughts to the present moment. The 54321 grounding  technique can be used to regulate emotions and calm down. It is a great strategy to teach when helping kids self-regulate. 

How To Use The 54321 Grounding Technique:

Before starting, take several deep breaths to start the calming process.    Then follow these steps:

Look around, and name five things you can see.  This could be anything that you see in your surroundings.

Name four things you can touch.  For example, your shirt, a pencil, a paperclip, or perhaps your hair.   

Tune in and name three things you can hear. For example, someone talking, audio from a computer or phone, someone walking, your breath.  

Find two things you can smell.  This might be hard to do, but not impossible. Maybe use a little hand sanitizer and take in how it smells.  Or maybe put on some lip balm and pay attention to its scent.  Maybe smell your hair, and take in the scent of your shampoo or hair products.  Is there a book nearby?  Take in the smell of its pages.  Are you outside?  Take in the refreshing scent of fresh air.  

Finally, focus on something you can taste.  If you have a mint or piece of gum handy, place it in your mouth and take in its flavor.  Take a sip of a drink.  Don’t have access to anything?  Simply focus on the taste in your mouth.  Sometimes the taste of your minty toothpaste, or mouthwash still lingers from your morning routine.  Or perhaps you just finished a meal. Can you still taste the tomato in the sauce you ate?   Can’t taste anything?  Think of the taste of your favorite food. 

It Is Important To Note:

Never try to reason with a child or ask a child to carry out a previously learned strategy in the midst of a meltdown.  Instead, equip them with coping strategies before the child reaches an escalated state and loses control of their behavior.  Once amid a meltdown, the brain simply can not process what you are saying or asking the child to do.  At this point, it is too late.  Why?  Because the part of the brain responsible for reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making is the cortex or the highest level of brain function.  Whatever you are trying to communicate to the child only reaches the brainstem or the lowest level of brain function.  When a child is dysregulated, as seen by kicking and screaming, yelling, throwing things, etc., all you can do is wait it out.  You must give the child space and allow them to eventually calm down before asking anything of them.  At that moment, all you can do is make sure the child is safe and that others around them are also safe.  

Fun Strokes Freebie:)

Would you like to use this technique with your littles? Here is a handy 6 x 4 in. card (PDF) that you can print and use as a teaching aid when helping kids learn how to self-regulate. Suggestions for use:

  • Print the card.
  • Laminate for durability (optional).
  • Place in plain sight to serve as a visual reminder.
  • Reduce the size to use as a visual reminder on students’ desks.



Mayo Clinic Health System

Perry, B., Winfrey, O. (2021). What Happened To You Conversations On Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. Flatiron Books.


The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

Published by Linda Craig Dennis

Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Author and Creator of Fun Strokes Pre-writing Program

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: