Kids need helpful ways to relax just like adults. On a daily basis, they face challenges like peer pressure, school expectations, sports activities, and other concerns. And just because the stressors they face are different, it doesn't mean that they are less impactful.
While you can't make all of your kiddo's stressors disappear, you can give them the tools they need to navigate through challenging situations and maintain their overall well-being. It's never too early to teach your child about relaxation techniques and coping skills. In fact, the sooner your child is introduced to these strategies, the sooner they can start practicing them on their own.
Basic Relaxation Techniques for Children
There are many techniques children can use to reduce their stress and relax. Depending on the child, some may work better than others. Try teaching your child one or two of the following techniques to begin. Then gradually add in more as he or she feels ready to try them.
1. Try Deep Breathing
It may seem cliche to tell your child to "just take a deep breath" when things start to become a bit overwhelming. However, the truth is that a deep breath, or maybe even a few, can actually help your kid relax.
Research shows that deep breathing techniques can trigger the body's natural relaxation response, relieve both mental and physical signs of stress, and improve sustained attention. Deep breathing has also been found to lower heart rate, reduce levels of cortisol in the body, and even reduce the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and anger.
You can teach simple breathing techniques to your kiddo, and even practice them together. This way both of you will be able to explore the coping mechanism and build resilience alongside one another. A good breathing practice to start with is box breaths. It allows people to shift their attention to the breath and check in with their body.
Follow the instructions below to begin your box breathing practice.
- Take a deep breath in to the count of four.
- Hold the breath for a count of four
- Then, breath out for a count of four
- Hold the breath for a count of four
- Repeat the process as many times as you need.
You might find it helpful to rest your hands on your belly when you breath in to make sure you and your child are breathing deeply. Or, to make the activity more fun, you can lie down and place stuffed animals on your belly, instead, and watch them rise and fall with each breath.
2. Use Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Although the name "progressive muscle relaxation" might sound like an intimidating exercise, it's actually fairly simple. To practice this technique, you purposefully tense certain areas or muscles in the body, and then gradually allow those areas to relax and release the tension that was built up.
Research shows that progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and even improve a person's sleep quality. In addition, not only has this technique been found to reduce stress, but research shows that it can also reduce symptoms of depression.
You can practice this technique along with your child to help encourage engagement and reinforce the idea that everyone could benefit from some stress relief. Look to the instructions below to guide you in your progressive muscle relaxation practice.
- Choose to practice this strategy either lying down or seated in a chair.
- Next, begin the exercise by starting with your feet. Squeeze or flex your toes and the soles of your feet to create tension. Continue flexing the toes and feet for about five seconds. Then, release the tension and allow your foot to relax. Notice how you feel. You can even ask your kiddo to describe the feeling.
- After, shift your attention to your lower legs. Create tension in your calf muscles and hold it for about five seconds. Once the time is up, release the tension from your lower legs. You can practice a deep exhale as you relax the muscle and notice how your legs feel.
- Next, create tension in your upper legs and pelvis. Squeeze the muscles together for five seconds. Then, on your exhale, release the tension.
- Now, shift your attention to your stomach. Squeeze your stomach muscles as much as you can for five seconds. Afterward, allow your stomach to relax as you breathe out.
- Then, focus on your hands and forearms. Ball them up into fists or flex your fingers. Hold the pose for five seconds. On an exhale, release the tension.
- Next, create tension in your upper arms and shoulders. You can bring your shoulder blades together and flex your arm muscles as much as possible like a superhero. Keep the tension for five seconds. Afterward, release the tension and allow your body to relax.
- Then, shift your attention to the head and neck. Tense as many of your facial and neck muscles as possible. You can even practice making silly faces with your child. Scrunch up your nose, stick out your tongue, and raise your eyebrows. Hold the pose for five seconds. Release the tension on an exhale and allow your face to return to normal.
- Finally, combine all of the steps you have just taken and flex all of the muscles in the body at once. You can also make this more silly by striking a funny pose while you flex your muscles. Hold for another five seconds and then release and allow your body to go limp.
You can check in with your child through the exercise as much as you want to see how they feel and if they notice any differences in their body before and after tensing and relaxing. Some children might find it difficult to sit through a full-body progressive muscle relaxation, and that's okay. You can practice tensing and relaxing each part of the body on its own and then gradually work your way to completing a full-body exercise.
3. Get Moving
When an adult is stressed, one of the last things they might want to do exercise. However, if a kiddo is feeling stressed and they get the chance to run around, play, and have fun, it might quickly become one of their favorite relaxation techniques.
Studies show that physical exercise is linked to lower stress levels and increased positive affect, which means that it can help your kid feel more relaxed and also boost their overall mood. In addition, research shows that exercising once a week can help build a person's emotional resilience to stress over time. So, the more your child gets moving, the more prepared they will be when they are confronted with another challenge.
Some ways to get your child moving are:
- Hit the nearest park or playground
- Join a sports team or other after-school activity
- Play tag with friends
- Put on some music and dance
- Schedule a playdate for the weekend
- Take the pets for a walk around the block
There's no right or wrong way to get moving. Ask your child what things they like to do and then try to incorporate as much movement into those activities as possible. Even if your child likes to do stationary activities, such as reading or coloring, you can always take a walk to the park beforehand and bring those activities along to help your child get some steps in for the day.
4. Explore Visualizations
Visualization exercises, also known as guided imagery, is a relaxation technique that allows kiddos to use their active imaginations to improve their mental health. In guided imagery practices, people visualize relaxing places, sounds, and activities in their minds, and then try to experience the calmness that those images create. For example, kids might pictures building a sand castle, swinging on a swing set, or cuddling with their favorite furry friends.
According to a study from the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, guided imagery has been found to boost a person's mood, reduce symptoms of depression and rates of fatigue, and even improve a person's quality of life. In addition, research shows that this technique can reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety, and even enhance immune function.
Follow the instruction below to guide your child through a visualization exercise.
- Ask your child what they find relaxing, calming, or soothing. For example, they might really enjoy eating a cookie fresh from the oven, going camping and looking at the stars, or listening to a bedtime story. Encourage them to choose an activity that requires their full attention, instead of something can do passively, such as watching TV.
- Then, tell them that you want to practice an exercise where they get to imagine that activity in as much detail as possible.
- First, have them find a comfortable position. They can lie down on a blanket, or sit up tall in a chair.
- Next, have them close their eyes and take a few deep breaths to help them settle into the exercise.
- Then, ask them to think about their chosen activity or place. What can they remember about it? Have them picture the sights, smells, and sensations as much as possible. They can share what they are picturing out loud if they choose, and you can ask them further questions to deepen their visualization.
- Aim to practice the exercise for about five minutes.
- When the time comes to a close, ask your child to gently bring their attention back to the room. They can take a few more deep breaths, and then open their eyes when they are ready.
- After they have completed the guided visualization, have them check in with themselves. How do they feel now? What emotions or sensations did they experience? Did they find the technique challenging? Listen to your child's experience and gauge whether this coping strategy might work for them.
You can also lead your child through a guided meditation if you already know an activity or place that they find relaxing. For example, if your child likes to go to the beach, you can use that as the core idea for the exercise, and create a relaxing story for your child to experience. Have them picture their toes in the sand, the smells of the fresh ocean breeze, and the sensations of the water running over their feet.
5. Remember to Laugh
If your kiddo is feeling stressed, sometimes one of the best things you can do is just let them laugh. The saying "laughter is the best medicine" might actually have some truth behind it.
According to a study from the Public Library of Science, laughter has been found to act as a stress buffer which can reduce the symptoms of stress, and also increase a person's positive affect. It does so by reducing the amount of stress-producing hormones in the body and increasing levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which can boost a person's mood.
You might find that you and your child already share a fair amount of laughs in your daily life. If you notice any changes in your child's behavior that might be a sign that they are feeling more down and distressed than usual, you can purposefully plan for a bit of extra laughter that day to brighten their mood. Some ways to encourage your child to laugh include:
- Choose a funny book to read before bed
- Explore the comics section in the newspaper
- Host a joke-telling contest at dinner
- Make funny faces and see who can get the other to laugh first
- Put on their favorite funny movie in the evening
At the end of the day, you know how to make your kid laugh. And, you might just find yourself laughing along them when you explore whatever activity you choose. After all, parents need a stress break, too.
6. Stretch Your Body
Stretching engages various muscles and connective tissues throughout the body. These elements are linked to nearly every aspect of the human body, including bones, blood vessels, and even organs, according to the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). This means that when you stretch, you may be able to help restore the health of connective tissues in the body, reduce inflammation, and fight off stress by getting your body moving.
Stretching does not have to be boring. In fact, you can make the experience fun, silly, and exciting by using your imagination, playing some music, or even turning it into a game. Some ways to jazz up your stretching time are:
- Make stretching into a game and see who can come closest to touching their toes
- Pretend to be ballerinas or wrestlers getting ready for their big event
- Put on your child's favorite song and stretch for the duration of the music
- Try yoga poses with animal names, such as downward dog or dolphin, and make the animal sounds as your stretch
7. Listen to Music
How many times have you been in the car and your little one asks you to change the radio station to something they like? The next time your child asks to be the DJ, you might just want to let them, because evidence shows that it might help them relax.
According to research from the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, music has been found to help people reduce stress levels, according to self-reported measures. In particular, the study found that music can have these stress-reducing wellness benefits when listed to for at least 20 minutes a day. Which means that if you play some of your kiddos favorite tunes to and from school, practices, or hangouts with friends, you can help them maintain their mental health.
8. Practice Meditation
Many people think of meditation as this elevated activity that only practiced yogis and gurus can master. However, that's a common misconception. Everyone can meditate, including your child. It just might take them a bit longer to get the hang of things. With practice and time, they can learn to develop this coping mechanism and keep their thoughts focused on the present.
According to research from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), meditation is associated with several health benefits, including being able to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve sleep quality, and relieve stress. The NCCIH also notes that meditation can also lower blood pressure and reduce acute and chronic pain in the body.
You can use the guide below to facilitate a simple meditation exercise.
- Have your child get comfortable. They can lie down on a blanket or sit with their legs cross-crossed on the floor. Another option would be to have your child sit up straight in a chair with their feet softly placed on the ground.
- Ask your child to close their eyes or have their gaze gently rest on the floor in front of them.
- Have your child shift their attention to their breath. Instruct your child to take a deep breath in. They can rest their hands on their belly to feel it rise and fall to make sure they are breathing deeply. Ask them to notice where they feel their breath most. Maybe it is in their belly, chest, or nostrils.
- Then, have your kiddo fully exhale their breath.
- You can ask them to count or label their breaths on the inhales and exhales. For example, they might label their inhales "one" and their exhales "two". Or, they might simply label them "in" and "out" or even "hot" and "cold". This is a trick that can keep their attention focused on their breath.
- Let them know that it's normal for thoughts to arise during this time. Ask them to note that they are thinking, and then gently return their attention back to the breath.
- Have your kiddo continue breathing and shifting their thoughts to their breath for about five minutes.
- Afterward, ask your child to bring their attention back into the room and to open their eyes. Ask them questions about how the exercise made them feel. Were there any challenges? What changes did you notice at the end of the practice?
If your child finds this type of meditation practice challenging, that's okay. There are several different types of meditations that might better suit their needs and that still have various health and wellness benefits. For example, they might prefer to practice mindful journaling or mindful eating. Follow their lead, and return to this exercise when they're ready to try it again.
9. Make Time to Cuddle
On days when your little one is sad, distressed, or overwhelmed, you might just want to wrap them up in a big hug to help ease their pain. You might not feel like you're doing much, however, research shows that the simple action can have a positive impact on your child's overall well-being.
So go ahead and give your child an extra little squeeze now and then if you notice that they're feeling down. Or, if your kiddo likes to give hugs more than receive them, they might find it comforting to cuddle with a beloved pet or snuggle with their favorite blanket, pillow, or stuffed animal.
10. Get Creative and Color
If you have a creative kiddo, then this coping strategy might be a good option for them. All you need is some plain paper or coloring book pages, and some markers, crayons, or colored pencils.
Research shows that coloring can reduce symptoms of anxiety, increase feelings of calmness and safety, and even leave people feeling more satisfied. Some studies show that it might be particularly relaxing to color pictures of mandalas or other images that might require more mindfulness to color all of their details.
The next time you and your child want to express your creativity, you can try coloring together with mandala printables to gauge the effectiveness of this coping strategy. Your child might like it because it feels more like fun than a relaxation technique, and you can keep this strategy in your back pocket the next time they are having a tough day.
Use Relaxation Techniques for Kids and Adults Together
These relaxation techniques can be adjusted for children of any age. If you have a younger kiddo, you might want to reduce the time spent on each exercise and gradually build it up over time. If you have an older child, you can increase the amount of engagement to give them more of a challenge.
You can practice all of these techniques along with your child and even explore them yourself whenever you are feeling stressed and could use some time to unwind. It might take some time and exploration, but you and your child can find the best ways to de-stress to help them cope with any challenges they face.