Muscle relaxation: why it’s good for children, teenagers and parents
Muscle relaxation helps you and your child feel calm and physically relaxed.
When you’re calm and relaxed, it’s good for your overall wellbeing. Feeling calm also helps you use good judgment and make better decisions.
Muscle relaxation can also help you and your child reduce or manage stress. Managing your stress is good for your emotional and mental health and wellbeing too.
Techniques like muscle relaxation work best if you practise them regularly, even when you’re not feeling stressed. This means that feeling relaxed and calm will come more naturally, more often.
What you need for this muscle relaxation activity
You need 15-20 minutes, and a calm, quiet space where you won’t be interrupted.
It’s best to wear comfortable clothes and make sure you’re warm enough.
It’s also good to give yourself time and space to do muscle relaxation regularly.
You and your child can do muscle relaxation by yourselves, or you can take the time to relax together.
How to do this muscle relaxation activity
Getting ready to relax
- Get comfortable. You can sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Or you can lie on the floor.
- Close your eyes. Breathe normally in and out.
- Mentally scan your body from top to bottom. Notice where your body feels tense or tight. This will help you to become aware of how your body is feeling.
Feet and legs
- Focus your attention on your right foot and leg.
- Tighten your toes if you’re lying down, or dig them into the carpet or floor if you’re sitting.
- Tense the muscles in your foot and ankle as hard as you can.
- Breathe in. As you breathe out, relax the tension in your foot.
- Tense your right calf muscle by pointing your foot down. Breathe in, and relax your muscle as you breathe out.
- Tense your right thigh muscle. Breathe in, and relax your muscle as you breathe out.
- Pause and notice how relaxed your leg feels.
- Repeat with your left foot and leg.
- Focus on your buttocks.
- Tense your buttocks tightly.
- Breathe in, and relax your buttocks as you breathe out.
- Pause and notice how relaxed your buttocks feel.
Stomach and chest
- Focus on the muscles in your stomach and chest.
- Tense all of the muscles.
- Breathe in, and relax the muscles as you breathe out.
- Pause and notice how relaxed your stomach and chest feel.
Arms and hands
- Focus your attention on your right hand and arm.
- Clench your right hand into a fist. Breathe in, and relax your fist as you breathe out.
- Tense your right bicep. Breathe in, and relax your bicep as you breathe out.
- Pause and notice how relaxed your hand and arm feel.
- Repeat with your left hand and arm.
Shoulders and neck
- Lift your shoulders up as high as they can comfortably go.
- Breathe in. Lower and relax your shoulders as you breathe out.
- Lean your head back so that you’re looking at the ceiling.
- Breathe in, breathe out, and relax your neck by moving your head back to its normal position. Don’t tense your neck if you have any neck problems.
- Pause and notice how relaxed your shoulders and neck feel.
- Open your mouth as wide as possible, and relax.
- Poke your tongue out as far as you can, and relax.
- Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth as hard as you can, and relax.
- Clench your teeth and notice how your cheeks and jaw are becoming tense, and relax.
- Close your eyes as tightly as you can, and relax.
- Raise your eyebrows as high as you can, and relax.
- Pause and notice how relaxed your face feels.
- Take a deep breath. When you feel that your lungs are full, take in a little more breath. Hold the breath for five seconds and then slowly breathe out.
- Pause and notice how your body feels. When your whole body feels relaxed, continue to breathe gently in and out.
- When you’re ready, slowly start to wake your body up. Wriggle your toes and your fingers. Stretch your arms and legs.
- Open your eyes when you’re ready.
Making muscle relaxation work for you
As you’re doing the exercise, make sure to look after your body – don’t tense a body part if you’re worried that you might hurt yourself.
This muscle relaxation technique can be great if you haven’t been sleeping well. In this case, do it just before you go to bed. You might feel very tired after this exercise.
Adapting muscle relaxation activities for children at different stages
You might need to guide younger children or children with disability or autism through this activity or do it with them, using the steps above as a script.
For example, here’s how you could guide your child through the hands and arms part of the activity. Remember to speak softly and slowly, and pause after you say each step:
- ‘Let’s sit so we’re comfortable.’
- ‘Close your eyes.’
- ‘OK, think about one hand and arm. Make a fist with that hand. Take a big breath in, now breathe out. Let go of all the tension in your fist.’
- ‘Now squeeze the muscles in the top part of that arm. Take a big breath in, now breathe out. Let go of all the tension in your muscles.’
- ‘Think about your hand and arm. Think about how relaxed they feel.’
- ‘Now let’s do the other hand and arm.’
As your child gets a little older, you might like to do muscle relaxation exercises together. You could record yourself saying the steps above, and then use the recording as a guide for yourself and your child. Or you might be able to find a relaxation app with muscle relaxation exercises that suit both you and your child.
Older children and teenagers might like to do muscle relaxation exercises independently. Your child could use your recording when they’re feeling stressed or want some help to relax. Or your child might like to make their own recording or download a relaxation app with exercises that work for them.