3 Ways to Reduce Stress in Children
Feb 25, 2020
Children, like many adults, have little conscious awareness of tension being held in their body and mind and have few skills to cope with it. Kids need tools to manage stress. It’s easy to simply tell a child to relax. Or “chill out”. It’s more effective to show a child techniques and lifestyle strategies that will cause a physiological shift to the “relaxation response” in the nervous system.
Since stress is held in the body (in the form of tense muscles) movement leads to relaxation. It can also dislodge stuck energy. Tense muscles are like dams and inhibit the flow of energy around the body.
Children inherently know that movement is an effective strategy for managing stress. When asked what they do when feeling stressed or upset in a KidsHealth KidsPoll survey, the number one answer was “play or do something active.”
Stress can often turn into anxiety. This comes in many forms and a major one is fear of school. The pressure felt at school often manifests as stomach aches and headaches. Stomach aches are one of the main physical components of anxiety. In our Therapeutic Applications of Yoga for Children training program, we have an entire module on how to help children reduce anxiety – it’s that important.
So what to do? Here are 3 simple steps you can take today to help alleviate stress in both your own and a child’s life.
- Learn How to Breathe! But isn’t breathing just happening? NO, we are breathing so poorly. With kids saying, “Just take a deep breath” may not work. BUT, you can have them turn into a balloon – inhaling deeply as they fill up and then fluttering to the ground as the exhale. Even flopping to the floor is a great way to release stress!
This is a very simple breathing exercise that even young children can emulate. It includes big physical movements and the delight of fluttering around and flopping to the ground. Most importantly, it is an easy and dynamic way to teach children to link breath with movement. The connection of breath and movement is what sets Yoga apart from other forms of exercise. Here’s how to do it:
- Squat on the floor. You are a balloon! Hug your knees and breathe out to squeeze all the air out of your balloon.
- Inhale to inflate. Breathe in as you stand up and stretch up, bringing your hands all the way up over your head, filling your balloon with air.
- Let all the air out. Breathe out as you flutter to the ground like a balloon losing air until you are lying on the floor.
- Let's do it again! What color balloon are you? Imagine this color as you squeeze all the air out, and then inhale to inflate, and then exhale…fluttering to the ground. This one is worth repeating a few times. After the last round, lie on the ground and rest quietly.
- Squeeze and Release. This can be done anywhere, any time. We are unconsciously holding a tremendous amount of tension in our muscles. By introducing more tension, we become aware of it and then can really let go. Kids are more likely to be engaged if you make it fun and fanciful. This is one of the key secrets to teaching kids Yoga. Have them pretend to sip a sour lemon and pucker up all the body parts and then let go. Or pretend they are a tube of toothpaste and you have to squeeze out the last drop.
- Begin in Final Rest (Savasana).
- Lift just the right leg – only one inch off the ground – and tighten every single muscle in the leg. Squeeze the toes…and release. Let the leg drop to the floor.
- Lift the left leg and do the same thing.
- Repeat this throughout all the major muscle groups: lift the hips, squeeze the buttocks, press the low back into the floor, lift the chest and squeeze the shoulder blades, lift each arm, press the neck into the floor, tighten all the muscles in the face.
- Unwind the Mind. This is crucial. Do not neglect this step. You make the time to eat, right? You make the time to get dressed before you leave the house, to get some sleep? This is just as important. My recommendation for families who are committed to turning around their health is two hours of unstructured free play every day – outside if possible. I know that seems unrealistic for many of us. SO, start where you are. Commit to just 30 minutes of no electronics, no focused activity. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. This free time is the source of creativity and trust me, you will feel you are actually gaining time in your day when you commit to this unstructured free time.
These techniques may seem basic but they can have a huge impact. Children feel more confident and competent when they learn how to take care of themselves and manage their own energy levels. By providing children with the self-mastery skills inherent in the practice of Yoga, you are helping them live more happy and healthful lives on many levels.