Calm Kids Relaxation Strategies
By Elizabeth Tirovolas for Family Kinnections
Recently I spoke with a mother about how her son had been managing stress lately. “Well”, she said, “having to make time to do relaxation exercises at home is stressing us out!” Many families feel the pressures of today’s hurried, frenzied pace and often don’t have the time to take regular moments of relaxation together. One gift you can give yourself and your family is the gift of silence and stillness− it is simple to do but rare in most of our homes. What are some helpful relaxation skills you can teach your children? How can we help integrate some relaxation and calming routines into your family life?
REMEMBER As a parent, you have a powerful role in encouraging your kids to value stillness and quiet, and in teaching relaxation skills. Before introducing your child to relaxation exercises, I would suggest you explore them first so that you can derive for yourself the many benefits of these practices and lead by example. After all, to authentically teach someone it’s important also to be a student of the techniques yourself!
TWO OF MY FAVOURITE RELAXATION STRATEGIES THAT I RECOMMEND (Adapted from Lantieri and Goleman, 2008)
Explain to your child that being aware of the way we breathe is a very important part of learning how to quiet our minds and relax our bodies when we feel upset. One of the ways we can relax is by breathing really deeply. Ask your child to lie comfortably on the floor and begin to pay attention to his/her breathing and notice where he/she feels the air going in and out. You can also place a small, soft toy, on your child’s belly, so he/she can see what part of his/her body is rising when he/she breathes in. One of the ways we know we’re taking a deep breath is when we see our bellies going up and down rather than just our chests.
You might say: When we take a really deep breath, not only our chests go up but our bellies do too. Let’s try and see if we can bring the air all the way down to our bellies by watching the toy. See if you can make it go up when we breathe in and down when we breathe out.
Breathe in to a count of 4: 1,2,3,4
Breathe out: 1,2,3,4
PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION
Explain to your child that you are going to learn how to relax yourselves and notice how different parts of your body feel when you’re relaxed: your heads, shoulders, arms and hands, bellies and legs, all the way down to the toes. Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing major muscle groups while paying attention to the sensations in each part of the body.
You might say: Let’s lie down comfortably on the floor on our backs with our arms at our sides. Take a little stretch or wiggle if you need to and get really comfortable. Let yourself begin to get really relaxed… and now close your eyes. Now take a big belly breath and feel your belly getting big like a balloon. Breathe in…in…in…in… And now slowly let the air out: 1,2,3,4.
Now imagine you have a ball of clay in each hand…Squeeze the clay with your hands…make your fists tight… squeeze… squeeze… squeeze…as tightly as you can. And now let go…. let the clay just drop to the floor… feel your arms relaxing… let your hands relax…. let your fingers relax…. let your arms relax….Good, now your hands and arms are relaxed.
Now lift your shoulders up to your ears… keep squeezing them up there… as tightly as you can…. keep squeezing them up a little more….. now let go……
Now squeeze your eyes tight…. squint like you do when the sunlight is really bright…. open your mouth as wide as you can… like you’re going to take a giant bite, and stick out your tongue… hold, hold hold…. now let go and let your whole face relax….
Next the belly…. pull in your belly as much as you can toward your back… and give yourself a great big hug… keep hugging as tightly as you can…. hug…hug…hug…. now relax… let your belly be soft….let your chest relax….
Now tighten your legs and feet, making them stiff and curl all ten toes…keep holding your legs and squeezing… and now let go and relax… feel your legs and feet resting on the floor….
Lastly, invite your child to tighten his/her whole body… hands…arms…shoulders…face…belly….. everything… and let go. Let the whole body relax as you lie down and feel like you are melting into the floor.
TIPS FOR HOW TO KEEP RELAXATION GOING
Set aside a time and place to begin when you think you can create a sense of calm and focus. It’s helpful to stick to a certain time of day so it becomes easier and easier to fit into your schedule.
Set yourself up for success by choosing exercises you know you can easily do daily or routinely.
Let your child know you are going to keep taking some special quiet time together for 10 to 15 minutes, perhaps a couple of times a week. During this time, you’re going to practice some things you can do whenever you feel the need to relax your bodies and calm down. Remember, the more you practice this, the easier it gets to become calmer or more relaxed when you need to!