Stress is unavoidable in life, and this is true for both adults and children. When we encounter stressful situations, we don’t just respond emotionally but also physically. Our bodies respond to stress with muscle tension, and this often causes discomfort and even pain. Sometimes these stressful circumstances are severe enough to cause anxiety in children.
The stress, anxiety, and corresponding tension in our muscles signals to the body that it is stressed, which keeps the stress-muscle-tension loop going. One way to break this cycle is through progressive muscle relaxation for kids. This technique reduces muscle tension and general anxiety. It also helps kids get better sleep and allows them to relax overall.
Here are a few things we can learn about how progressive muscle relaxation can help children.
What is Progressive Muscle Relaxation?
Progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR, is a deep relaxation technique that is meant to provide stress relief and reduce insomnia. Therapists recommend this method for both adults and children who are experiencing increased levels of stress and problems with sleep.
PMR is useful in alleviating not only stress and sleep but anxiety as well. It achieves this through the simple practice of tensing one muscle group at a time, followed be releasing that tension during a relaxation phase.
Benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Kids
Progressive muscle relaxation is usually done by going through a script. When your child is experiencing stress or anxiety, following a PMR script for kids can lead to the following benefits:
Decreases tension and anxiety
One of the major benefits of PMR is the immediate relief of anxiety. This includes generalized anxiety disorder and more specific types of anxiety, such as sleep anxiety or social anxiety. Research has found that people who did PMR had reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Doing this technique also improved their feelings of well-being and overall quality of life [*].
Since PMR promotes relaxation, it also helps kids get better sleep. When children are relaxed, their heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing all slow down. Not only does it help a child’s body calm down physically, but it can rid the mind of intrusive thoughts that may hinder restful sleep.
Eases body pain
Tension can often result in body pain, especially in the neck and lower back. By doing PMR exercises, children can ease the pain in these areas. The constant tensing and relaxing of muscles will encourage muscles to ease up and release the pain.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Script for Kids
Kids who experience tension as a result of stress and anxiety can do PMR with their parents or guardians. Start by helping your child identify the physical symptoms of anxiety, paying careful attention to where they feel tension. Then, use a progressive muscle relaxation script for kids to reduce these symptoms.
Here is an example of such a script:
“Let’s try an exercise to make us feel better. We can sit, stand, or lie down.
Take three deep breaths.
Now we’ll start going through the different parts of the body. We will be tensing and relaxing them one at a time. Let’s start with the toes first.
Toes. Imagine that you are a monkey up in a tree that can hold onto the branches with your feet! Think of this and then curl and clench your toes, as if you were grabbing a thin branch with them really hard. Hold this for two seconds — one, two, and relax. Let go of the branch and relax your toes.
Think about how that made your toes and feet feel. Does it feel much better than it did earlier?
Now let’s move on to the legs.
Legs. Focus on the feeling that you had when you clenched your toes and try to bring that up into the lower part of your legs. Clench it for two seconds — one, two, and release. Now let’s bring it up to your upper legs. Clench it for two seconds again — one, two, and stop.
Pay attention to how nice it feels to tense and then relax your muscles this way. Do you feel the difference when they are clenched and relaxed?
Stomach. Now it’s time to clench the stomach. Imagine that someone is throwing something at your stomach. Maybe it’s a baseball or a brick. So, to protect yourself, make your stomach hard. Tighten your muscles for two seconds — one, two, and release.
Now, let’s move on to your hands.
Hands. To tense your hands, pretend you are squeezing lemons with them, trying to get all the juice out! Squeeze really hard (but not too hard). Hold it — one, two, and release.
Doesn’t it feel good to relax your hands after that? Good.
Arms. Now for the arms. Stretch them high up above your head and feel how it pulls on your shoulders. Hold it — one, two, and release. Let your arms drop down and dangle at your sides. Imagine they are cooked spaghetti noodles!
Head and shoulders. To tense your head and shoulders, imagine that you are a turtle going back into your shell. Push your head down and pull your shoulders up to your years. Hold it for two seconds — one, two, and relax.
Face. Our face can be tense too, so we mustn’t forget to help it relax. Scrunch your face up and make as many silly expressions as you can! And then… relax.
Now let’s take some more breaths. Breathe in and breathe out slowly three times.
Notice how your body feels now. Does it feel better?/
How else do you feel?
Did it feel good to tense up and then relax?”
And that would be the end of a progressive muscle relaxation script for children. It also helps to identify your child’s anxiety triggers after your relaxation exercise. This will make it easier for you and your child to recognize when it is time to do the technique.
Help Your Kids Practice Mindfulness with Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Even when you are not anxious, using methods like progressive muscle relaxation regularly will make them more effective. As a result, your child will feel more at ease and less stressed naturally.
Adults can benefit from coping techniques like these as well. In fact, putting them into practice is a terrific way to look after yourself while also serving as an example of coping mechanisms for your children.
- Merakou K, Tsoukas K, Stavrinos G, et al. The Effect of Progressive Muscle Relaxation on Emotional Competence: Depression-Anxiety-Stress, Sense of Coherence, Health-Related Quality of Life, and Well-Being of Unemployed People in Greece: An Intervention Study. 20 August 2018.