By Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.
What goes up must come down. And so it is with children’s energy levels. Young children, however, do not always have the skills to ease down from high activity levels. Hence, the crash and burn generally seen as whining, screaming, and bouncing off walls. Teaching your child how to relax goes hand-in-hand with teaching your child how to succeed.
Incorporate relaxation games into your daily routines, possibly late afternoon or before bedtime. Create a language of relaxation along with the physical awareness of stress and de-stress. Soon your child will learn to self-manage body and spirit.
Head to Toe
Children strongly identify with their bodies. “Head to Toe” relaxation gives your child a concrete method to tune-in, slow down, and recharge. You can entice your child by creating a complete “relaxation” experience.
Give your child a “magic carpet” to lie on. Play relaxing instrumental music. Use a small floppy stuffed animal to lay on each part of your child’s body as you guide him to “squeeze” and “release” the muscles from his toes to his head: toes, calves, thighs, tummy, tushie, shoulders, neck, chin, nose, cheeks, and forehead.
All experienced yogis know that breathing isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when you feel angry or frustrated. Practice “balloon belly breathing” with your child so she can use effective breathing in times of stress. Before bed, or some time when your child is lying down, ask your child to breathe deeply and notice where her body is moving. Tell her to picture a round balloon, in her favorite color, filling with air in her tummy. Let the balloon fill slowly as she counts 1,2,3,4,5, and deflate slowly as she counts 5,4,3,2,1. Experiment with different ways of counting her breathing and with holding her breath a few extra seconds before and after each set of numbers.
Try “color breathing” while sitting or standing using the same awareness of breathing in and breathing out. Tell your child to listen to the breath going in and out of her mouth while she imagines her breath having a color. Her breath might even change colors as it goes in and out.
Children love storytelling. Use guided storytelling to lead your child to relaxing places and comforting experiences. As your child becomes more practiced, he can help plan the story with you or write down his favorite relaxation adventures. Start with something that makes these stories different from others. For example, “Before we can start our relaxation adventure, take three slowwwwww breaths”. Or, “first you must wrap your body with starlight and moondust and become very still – only then can go to these quiet places”.
Good, now you’re ready to visit happy places, tranquil places, places where your child will find inner strength and a peaceful heart. You can fly over faraway friends and family and listen to them saying wonderful things about your child. You can go the bottom of the sea or up to the clouds – immerse your child in the sensory moments or bring back invisible prizes to carry in their pockets. Wherever your story takes you, your child will feel connected and supported.
These, as well as many other creative and physical outlets, help your child to feel comfortable in her own body, in her own thoughts, and in a complex world. Choose any activity that nourishes your child’s sense of calm self-control – yoga for children, dance, art, or walking in nature. Children learn by example and they learn from your values. Relaxation is not an afterthought. Relaxation is a daily necessity.
Karen Deerwester is the owner of Family Time Coaching & Consulting, writing and lecturing on parenting and early childhood topics since 1984. Karen is also the Mommy & Me director at The Ruth and Edward Taubman Early Childhood Center at B�nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton.
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