Helping your child relax: Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Teaching your child a relaxation exercise – known as progressive muscle relaxation – can help them to relax and fall asleep at night.

Concentrating on relaxation is a distraction and can stop your child worrying. There are many physical feelings associated with worrying (e.g. breathing faster, sweating, heart racing). Relaxation can get rid of these physical feelings and make your child feel better able to cope.

Teaching your child to relax their muscles

What to say to your child: You can say something like…

“Sometimes when our minds are stressed, our bodies get tense. If we can learn to relax our tense bodies, then our minds may relax too. But we need to practice what it feels like to have tense and relaxed muscles.”

This exercise can be a nice way to help your child wind down during quiet time in your pre-bedtime routine. They might be able to use it later in the night to help them get to sleep at the start of the night, or to get back to sleep if they wake overnight.

A simple relaxation scenario – Step by step

Have your child lie down on their back somewhere quiet with their legs bent at the knees so their feet are flat on the ground.

  1. Say, “Close your eyes and pretend you are at the beach, lying on the sand.” Ask your child to pretend they hear the water lapping against the shore.

  2. Next, ask your child to imagine that it’s a beautiful, sunny day. The sun feels warm against their skin. The sand is warm underneath their body.

  3. Have your child take a few deep breaths as they “watch the waves go in and out”.

  4. Now ask your child to squeeze the sand between their toes-squeeze hard! Breathe in, hold (count 5 seconds), breathe out, and relax.

  5. Now squeeze your legs! “Feel how tight that muscle is”. Breathe in, hold, breathe out and relax.

  6. Now ask them to tighten their bottom. Breathe in, hold, breathe out and relax.

  7. Now squeeze your tummy. Breathe in, hold, breathe out and relax.

  8. Then your chest. “Breathe in, hold, breathe out and relax.

  9. And then the face. Sometimes children don’t know how to tense up their face. You may need to say something like: “Squeeze your eyes and mouth tight!” Breathe in, hold, breathe out and relax.

  10. Then ask them to squeeze their shoulders and neck. Breathe in, hold, breathe out and relax.

  11. Now the hands and arms. Remind them to “squeeze sand in-between their fingers”. Breathe in, hold, breathe out and relax.

  12. Finally, have your child squeeze their whole body. Breathe in, hold, breathe out and relax.

  13. Ask them to take a few more deep breaths.

  14. Remind them to feel the warm sun and sand. Hear the water against the shore.

  15. If you’re not wanting your child to go to sleep now, ask them to open their eyes.

With any relaxation technique, it is best to be taught when not stressed.

Trying to teach a relaxation strategy when a child is very stressed can make their stress worse. Teach and practice relaxation techniques when you can both be calm and quiet together.

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