There are several ways we can help our children learn how to relax, calm down, de-stress, and cope with anxiety. Here are a few that I have found work great for all ages.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation:
This can be used if a child is anxious, angry, hyper, or as a bedtime routine. The idea of Progressive Muscle Relaxation is to slowly and separately relax each muscle group by first stressing the muscle and then relaxing it. This lets each muscle group slowly relax until the whole body is relaxed. The child can start by either sitting or laying down and then you can help by dictating which muscle group to tighten for 3-5 seconds and release.
For example, “Now clench your fists as tight as you can and keep squeezing (then count to 3), now let go and feel the difference as your hands are now relaxed”. It generally helps to start at either the top or bottom of our bodies (feet or head). Here is a great script that I like to use.
Relaxation Script for Younger Children
Pretend you are squeezing a whole lemon in your left hand. Squeeze it hard. Try to squeeze all the juice out. Feel the tightness in your hand and arm as you squeeze. Now drop the lemon and relax. See how much better your hand and arm feel when they are relaxed. Repeat with other hand.
Arms and Shoulders
Pretend you are a furry, lazy cat. You want to stretch. Stretch your arms out in front of you. Raise them up high over your head. Way back. Feel the pull in your shoulders. Stretch higher. Now just let your arms drop back to your side. Okay kitten, stretch again. Repeat.
Shoulder and Neck
Now pretend you are a turtle. You’re sitting out on a rock by a nice, peaceful pond, just relaxing in the warm sun. It feels nice and warm and safe here. Oh-Oh! You sense danger. Pull your head into your house. Try to pull your shoulders up to your ears and push your head down into your shoulders. Hold in tight. It isn’t easy to be a turtle in a shell. The danger is past now. You can come out into the warm sunshine and once again you can relax and feel the warm sunshine. Watch out now. More danger. Hurry pull your head back into your house and hold it tight. Repeat.
You have a giant jawbreaker bubble gum in your mouth. It’s very hard to chew. Bite down on it. Hard! Let your neck muscles help you. Now relax. Just let your jaw hang loose. Notice how good it feels just to let your jaw drop. Okay, let’s tackle that jawbreaker again now. Repeat.
Face and Nose
Here comes a pesky old fly. He has landed on your nose. Try to get him off without using
your hands. That’s right, wrinkle up your nose. Make as many wrinkles in your nose as you can. Scrunch your nose up real hard. Good. You’ve chased him away. Now you can relax your nose. Oops here he comes back again. Repeat.
Hey! Here comes a cute baby elephant. But he’s not watching where he’s going. He doesn’t see you lying there in the grass, and he’s about to step on your stomach. Don’t move. You don’t have time to get out of the way. Just get ready for him. Make your stomach very hard. Tighten up your stomach muscles real tight. Hold it. It looks like he is going the other way. You can relax now. Let your stomach go soft. Let it be as relaxed as you can. That feels so much better. Oops, he’s coming this way again. Get ready. Repeat.
Legs and Feet
Now pretend that you are standing barefoot in a big, fat mud puddle. Squish your toes down deep in to the mud. Try to get your feet down to the bottom of the mud puddle. Push down, spread your toes apart, and feel the mud squish up between your toes. Now step out of the mud puddle. Relax your feet. Let your toes go loose and feel how nice that is. It feels good to be relaxed. Repeat...
Script Reference: Carkhuff, R.R. Helping and human relations, Vol. 1, New York: Holt, Rivehart; Winston, 1969.
Another great exercise for relaxation is Guided Imagery. There are several different amazing scripts that can help children imagine they are in a relaxing environment. Here is one of my favorites that you can use with any age and even alter it to make it more descriptive if desired.
“Going on a Vacation” Script
*Close your eyes and make yourself comfortable. We are going on a vacation, and this will require you to use your imagination and your senses to try and experience the trip. Imagine yourself at the beach. You are barefoot walking on the sand. Notice the feeling of the soft, hot sand on your feet. Are your soles sensitive? Does the sand tickle? Can you feel the sand between your toes?
Look around to find a perfect spot on which to lay your towel. You spread out your towel and notice the color of the stripes—red, blue, green, and black. Look out at the ocean. Can you see the horizon? What color is the water? Is the surf calm or choppy?
Notice the ocean breeze on your skin and smell of the tide? Do you taste the ocean air?
Take out your sunscreen and begin to rub it on your skin. How does it feel? How does it smell? Does the fragrance remind you of anything?
Lie down and get your body comfortable in the sand. How does the sand feel under your back? Notice your body relaxing? How does the sun feel beating on your skin?
Listen to the surf hitting the shore and the sounds of nature around you.
Enjoy the peacefulness and quiet for a few minutes….
(*Script taken from Blaustein and Kinniburgh (2010), p. 303)