Relaxation Exercises for Kids

Teach Your Child How to Unwind

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Potty training, tying shoelaces, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ looking both ways before crossing the street – the list of things you’ve taught your child to do is no doubt long and varied. Teaching children basic relaxation skills is another way to keep them safe – from the effects of stress and anxiety –and to instill a lifelong appreciation for the value of adding some relaxation to each day.

Wondering how to help your child unwind? Here are some kid-friendly exercises to try.

Belly Breathing

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Deep “diaphragmatic” breathing helps to slow down the body’s stress response. It lowers heart rate and blood pressure and can be done simply by taking, holding, and then releasing a deep breath.

To illustrate this concept for your child, you might have him or her imagine taking a deep breath to smell their favorite hot food, let’s say pizza. After inhaling the pretend aroma of pizza, he or she can pretend that it’s too hot to eat, and blow on it (i.e., exhale) to cool it off.

Older kids might prefer to visualize or look at an image of a shape, such as a hexagon. Tracing one edge of the shape, he or she would inhale. Tracing the next edge of the shape would be accompanied by a long exhale. This is repeated as the entire shape is traced, until relaxation is achieved.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

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This is a relaxation exercise in which the muscles of the body are intentionally tensed and then released that is commonly suggested for adults with anxiety. It exists in longer and shorter versions; a shorter version is recommended for young children but older kids and teens may enjoy the same longer version that adults use.

With younger kids, imagery is again important in conveying the concepts of tension and relaxation. You might liken the tense state to a turtle in its shell and the relaxed state to a wet noodle.

Imagery can be used with each part of the body. For example, to tense the face, ask your child to pretend he or she smells something stinky, and then to relax. With the hands, a child can imagine tightly squeezing an orange and then dropping it on the floor.  Asking your child to reach up and try to touch the ceiling will create tension in the shoulders; having him or her drop the arms and try to touch the floor will create a release.


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It’s common knowledge that getting a kid to sit still is a challenge. This is especially true of children who are feeling anxious or stressed. Stretching allows pent-up energy to be channeled in a more controlled and calming way. A simple game of Simon Says can get kids stretching. And many children will enjoy some basic poses that will help them to look like their favorite animal while reaping the benefits of yoga.  


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Whereas physical relaxation strategies calm the body, guided imagery aids in relaxation by helping to calm the mind. Essentially, this technique requires that we use our imagination to slow down the mind’s chatter and then notice thoughts and feelings without judgment.

To help your child with visualization, ask him or her to imagine a favorite color, a soothing sound, or an image like a ball of light. Have your child focus on this image with each deep inhale and exhale. For example, your child could imagine a ball of light traveling down into the body with the in-breath, and traveling up and out of the body with the out-breath.

If the traditional calming images have more of a boring than calming effect on your child, then he or she might try imagining taking a trip to the moon (or a location from a beloved storybook). Emphasize exploration and attention to breath in equal parts. 


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Laughter truly is the best medicine! It relieves stress and helps the body to relax by stimulating the organs, firing up circulation, and promoting a physical and psychological release.  Encourage your anxious child to laugh by taking turns making silly faces, telling jokes, or reading cartoons together. Next time that you have a group playdate, have the kids lie in a circle, with each child’s head on the stomach of the child next to them. Instruct one child to laugh and watch the laughter become contagious as the giggle chain comes to life! 

Personalize It, and Join In!

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You can modify these exercises to make them even more age appropriate and personalized for your child. And remember, these techniques can prove useful for kids of all ages, adults included. So don’t hesitate to practice the exercises with your kid, or on your own. Reducing your own stress will of course benefit your child as well. 

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