The mind-body connection is powerful. When we can relax the tension we carry in our muscles, we can soothe our stress, too. That’s why progressive muscle relaxation is an effective meditation technique — as well as a simple, natural, and pleasant way to relax at bedtime or any time.
The practice involves tensing and releasing muscles in the body, group by group in an intentional order, to release tension and promote a sense of calm.
How it works
To try it with kids, first have them get into a comfortable position in a quiet space without distractions. This can be lying down or sitting, as long as the body is fully supported.
You can begin by asking them to close their eyes and breathe deeply as they focus on tensing up a single muscle group for a count of five seconds. Ask them to release those muscles for a count of 10 seconds. Then, guide them to another muscle group, instructing them to tense and release while breathing deeply as they go.
Work with kids to do this until they’ve moved through every muscle group in the body: feet, legs, stomach, chest, shoulders, back, arms, hands, neck, and each part of the face. The entire practice can take five minutes or longer.
You can try this simple Moshi script to guide kids through the practice:
“With children, I have them imagine they’re tightening then softening each part, to become more and more limp — like a rag doll or a piece of cooked spaghetti,” says Jane Pernotto Ehrman, who teaches mindfulness and stress relief practices. “For some children, soft, soothing instrumental music in the background can enhance the relaxation effect.”
If there’s a particular area where kids hold stress, encourage them to focus more time and attention on that muscle group. They can pause there for several extra slow, deep breaths to fully release the tension in those areas before moving on to the next.
During the process, explain to kids that it’s OK if they notice their minds wandering. You can encourage them to simply bring their focus back to the practice without judgement when that happens.
Benefits of progressive muscle relaxation for kids
After the progressive muscle relaxation, the body and mind should feel relaxed. This technique can help kids fall asleep naturally and sleep more deeply. Other benefits include better body awareness, heightened focus and concentration, and stress relief, Ehrman says.
Try it with kids to “quiet their minds, relax their bodies, and help them let go of the day,” she says. “Besides bedtime, this can be an effective practice when a child feels stressed or overwhelmed, or needs a break between online learning sessions.”
Tips for getting started
Try helping kids practice the technique nightly over time until they commit the muscle groups to memory and get the hang of the routine. “For young children, ages three to five, guiding them through this practice is best,” Ehrman says. “For older children, perhaps offer guidance the first couple of times; then they should be able to do it on their own.”
For kids just getting started, it can help to listen to an audio recording that guides them through the muscle groups in order, such as Moshi’s magical guided muscle relaxations meant for kids. The app’s content is proven to help kids fall asleep quicker and stay asleep for longer, with fewer night wakings.
When kids relax their muscles, they relax their minds — and that means peaceful sleep is on the way.
For more tips on helping kids relax at bedtime or whenever they’re feeling frazzled, try these effective calming techniques for kids.