Relaxation for Children
Like adults, children can suffer from the ill effects of stress in their lives. Their stressors may include concerns such as a test in school, a bully in the playground, an overloaded daily schedule, or a competitive sibling. Other sources of stress may be traumatic in nature such as the divorce of parents, or the illness or death of a close family member, or political violence or war.
Children react to stress in a variety of ways. Some complain of headaches or stomachaches, while others display signs of irritability or loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed. Children suffering from stress often have trouble falling asleep or complain of nightmares. One of the simplest ways to help a child cope with stress is to help him/her learn to relax.
Relaxation techniques such as the ones below can help children feel in control and give them something concrete to do when they are feeling anxious. Relaxing will help a child release tension and thus contribute to a feeling of wellbeing. There are many methods of relaxation that have been specifically developed for children. There is no one “right way” to help a child relax, so see what works best for you and your child. We recommend trying these out yourself before trying them with your child.
Breathing and focusing ones attention on breathing is one of the simplest ways to facilitate relaxation.
A simple breathing activity is called “minute meditation.” It is useful as a quick way to calm down or as a way to take a break from difficult activities. It involves the following three steps:
“Notice how you are sitting on your chair, how your back touches the back of the chair. Feel your shoes on the floor, your feet inside of them, and place your hands on your legs.”
- “Listen to your breathing. Notice the air you inhale and exhale. Inhale again, more slowly, and let the air out. Notice the way your body is feeling.”
- “Do a body scan. Review your body from head to toe. Ask yourself: What is my stress level and where are the areas of my body that I’m feeling stress? What is my relaxation level? How worried am I? What are my expectations? How hopeful am I feeling?”
Another breathing exercise is called “elevator breathing.” It can be conducted through use of the following steps:
- “Your breath is an elevator taking a ride through your body.”
- “Breathe in through your nose and start the elevator ride.”
- “Breathe out and feel your breath go all the way to the basement, down to your toes.”
- “Breathe in and take your elevator breath up to your belly.”
- “Hold it. Now, breathe out all your air. (Pause)
- This time, breathe in and take your elevator breath up to your chest.
- Hold it. Now breathe out all your air. (Pause)
- Now breathe in and take your elevator breath up to the top floor, up through your throat and into your face and forehead.
- Feel your head fill with breath. Hold it.
- Now breathe out and feel your elevator breath take all your troubles and worries down through your chest, your belly, your legs, and out through the elevator doors in your feet.
An easy technique that can be taught to even very young children is muscle and body relaxation. Instruct children to tense all of their muscles, hold for 10 seconds and release. Another way to do the same exercise is to have children start at their feet and have them isolate and hold muscle groups all the way up to their head and then release each group. For an example of a complete body relaxation exercise see: “A Journey Through the Body.”
Visualization and Guided Imagery
Helping children imagine calm and soothing scenarios in their heads is a good way to aid children to think happy and positive thoughts. This can be done through reading a book, telling a story or having a child recount a positive experience with his or her eyes closed. For an example of longer guided imagery exercise see: “The Story of Bambi.”