Progressive muscle relaxation techniques are used to relax the mind and body when your child is feeling frustrated or anxious. They are also helpful when children are learning to regulate themselves during meltdowns because they are discrete, do not require any tools, and can be done almost anywhere.
Progressive relaxation techniques are also great tool to use right before bedtime to help regulate a child who needs a little help getting steady before bed. The squeezing and tension created through progressive muscle relaxation loosens the muscles and often helps children go right to sleep.
An easy one to try with your little one is the idea of making fresh squeezed orange juice:
Have your child sit in a chair with his/her arms dangling by their side and their feet planted firmly on the ground. I like to begin with one big deep breath.
Hands & Arms
Take an "orange" in your right hand and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, (hold for 5 seconds)
And then quickly release the "orange" and drop it into the 'bucket.' Repeat this process two more times, to make sure you've gotten all the juice out!
Then switch hands, grab another 'orange' hold it tightly, and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze the juice out (hold the squeeze for 5 seconds) then release the orange and drop it into the bucket.
(Repeat 2 more times)
Arms & Shoulders
Now it's time to grab another orange from the tree, reach your arms as high as you can and try to grab the orange at the tippy top of the tree! Reach your arms up and over your head, and stretch them moving them slightly behing your head, reach out as far as you can! (Hold for 5 seconds) Now grab the orange and drop It into the bucket! (Repeat 2 more times).
Face & Jaw
All these oranges are making me hungry! Let's take a big bite of an orange. Bite down as hard as you can! And hold it for 5 seconds, 1,2,3,4,5 & swallow and release. Let's try that 2 more times!
Face & Nose
Oh no! You just took a bite of the orange and It's so sour! Squeeze your eyes tightly shut, scrunch up your face and tuck your chin into your chest! Hold for 5 seconds & release! (Repeat 2 more times)
Man that was sour! Let's pretend we are taking a break from making juice and laying under a shady orange tree. Feel the sunshine peaking through the branches, and the yummy scent of orange in the warm breeze. Oh no! A large bird landed on a limb, shook the tree, and some oranges are falling from the branches! Protect your belly by making it as hard as board! Hold for 5 seconds and release! The coast is clear! Good job protecting that tummy! Oh no! Another bird has landed on the same branch and shook the oranges off of the tree! Protect your belly again by making it as hard as a board, hold for 5 seconds & release (Repeat 1 more time).
Legs & Feet
That was a nice break, but we still have some more juice to make! Here is a silly one! Let's try to juice the orange with our toes! Push down on that orange with your legs and spread your toes apart. Really imagine that you are trying to get ALL of the juice out of that orange! Hold for 5 seconds and release!
(Repeat 2 more times)
Wow! You worked so hard and we sure have made a lot of juice! Now let your body go soft, shake out you hands, arms, legs and feet. Take a big deep breath and as you breathe out feel your body relax and soften from the tippie top of your head to the soles of your feet. You should feel nice and warm, and your mind should feel relaxed and steady.
And there you have it, a fun and easy way to relax the body and quiet the mind. Although this exercise is meant to be done from head to toe, the techniques can be taught to the child individually to utilize in situations where he or she needs help getting steady. Parents can prompt their child by saying "you look frustrated, maybe you should try to squeeze some orange juice with your hands." Often times even when a child has learned a skill they may not be able to remember to utilize it in the moment without some gently prompting from a grown-up. And as always remember that practice makes perfect!