Relaxation Revisited (Tips for helping your kids relax)

The end of October marks the beginning of the very busiest time of the year.  Starting with Halloween and ending on New Year’s Day, children are in a near constant state of over-stimulation, excitement, celebrations, shifting emotions, and exhaustion.

It’s tiring, and it can lead to frequent meltdowns.

It helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve for teaching your kids how to relax when they become over-stimulated or overwhelmed.

Below are some tips to help you help your child relax:

1.    Know the signs:  Kids are always in forward motion and will continue along that path as long as their bodies allow.  Most young children do not know how to stop and assess how they are feeling (in fact, many adults don’t do this either).  Teach your child the signs of over-stimulation:  Rapid heartbeat, tightened muscles, inability to settle down, poor sleep, and feeling like they just can’t stop moving.  Children don’t always know when to say when, so we have to step in and help them slow down.  Teach them to recognize the signs so that they can ask for help.

2.    Exercise:  In a long season full of parties, planning, shopping, cooking, and crafting, children don’t always get adequate exercise.  Exercise is a great stress reducer.  For kids this means playing outside (or indoors in inclement weather, think scavenger hunts and obstacle courses), going to the park, or a fun class that involves movement for at least 45 minutes per day.  If you get their bodies moving while they are having fun, they will exhibit fewer symptoms of stress.

3.    Music:  Adults often reference listening to a favorite band to check out when the going gets tough, so it makes good sense that music helps children as well.  Riley sneaks off to her room and turns on her bedtime music when she becomes overwhelmed.  It’s not the style of music that matters, it’s that you play the music that means something to your child and helps him relax.  People like to reference classical music as a good strategy for relaxing babies and young children, but classical music can actually be a bit startling at times.  Ray LaMontagne turned our morning around just the other day.  It’s the music, not the lyrics, which calms them down.  Find what works for you.

4.    Take a break:  If your kids are experiencing frequent meltdowns, then it’s time to look at your daily schedule and find a way to factor in some downtime.  Whether it’s a nap or just some quiet playtime mid-day, children need downtime to rest and process the events of the morning.  Give them a break each day and allow them time to just be.  I often have parents tell me that once the nap is gone the days just become hectic.  Riley has a quiet time period during Liam’s nap each day.  She needs to check out, watch a show, read some stories, and just play with her dolls by herself so that she can enjoy the afternoon.  Make it happen.

5.    Visualization:  Young children have the benefit of living in a world of active imaginations.  This can come in handy when they are over-stimulated.  Visualizing something happy helps children relax and release their stress.  Have your child lie comfortably on the bed and close his eyes.  Ask him to describe his favorite memory and use that memory to describe something that makes him happy.  I often cue Riley to take a few deep breaths in the beginning, but by the time she finds her happy memory she becomes very calm and does the breathing on her own.

6.    Relaxation Breathing:  Deep breathing is quite possibly the best way to relax your body.  Deep breathing, when done correctly, lowers your heart rate and normalizes your blood pressure.  If you tell your child to take a deep breath, he will most likely take a very quick deep breath.  Children need to practice slow, deliberate breathing that relaxes the body.  The Cotton Ball Relaxation Game adds a little fun to deep breathing.  Children have to use slow, deep breaths to move the cotton ball from one end of the table to another.  See the video below.  If they learn to use deep breathing exercises when they’re calm, they will be better able to retain the information and visualize the exercise when they are upset.  Another great exercise is blowing up balloons.


How do you help your kids relax?

About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)