When children are sad, mad, angry or even frustrated they sometimes don’t realize how much it can affect them physically. Strong feelings can look and feel different for each child. When going through daily life children often have physical reactions in their bodies and thoughts about situations they encounter. How a child responds, reacts, or behaves is often a result of what they are feeling and thinking at the time. Many events or daily activities can intensify and get more complex around the holidays. This is especially true for military children dealing with a parent being gone during that time. During deployments, parents and other caregivers are also coping with loved ones being gone, which can be very challenging. Understanding feelings and finding helpful ways to cope is important for both parents and children.
FOCUS provides several tools that can be used to help children calm their bodies during stressful times. One of these tools is progressive muscle relaxation for children. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique used to help children manage the physical effects of their feelings. When a child is stressed he or she could physically experience headaches, stomach aches, clenching of the fists or teeth, muscle tension and much more. Progressive muscle relaxation provides children the ability to relax their bodies when stress becomes physically overwhelming. The FOCUS Progressive Muscle Relaxation script (included in this newsletter) starts with deep breathing. Then it takes the child on a journey through their body, focusing on each specific muscle group by tensing and relaxing the muscles. The script tells a fun story that engages children and helps them to experience relaxation more fully. For example, kids are instructed to squeeze pretend oranges to help them tense and release their fists and arms. When they imagine drinking the juice, it is very sour so they have to tense and release their jaws. There are scenarios that move throughout the body. In the end, children feel calm and relaxed. Parents often feel refreshed too. The FOCUS Progressive Muscle Relaxation script teaches children that even when they are tense or stressed they can relax their bodies and calm down.
While older children might be able to read the FOCUS Progressive Muscle Relaxation script on their own, others may need to follow along while it is read to them. It can be helpful for younger children to have a visual aid, in the form of pictures of each part of the story. We developed the Progressive Muscle Relaxation Picture keychain to provide a visual reference for each of the scenarios in the script. The key chain is portable and can be used as a reminder of the important relaxation steps that a child can use when he or she is nervous. To make the keychain, you will need a key or binder ring, hole punch and pictures. You can print the pictures that are included here or your children can draw their own. Simply cut out the pictures, punch holes and attach to the key ring. Your children can easily carry it in a backpack or pocket. The keychain will help them remember the steps when they need to relax.
As a mom and military spouse, I know that the holiday season can be full of hustle and bustle and lots of stress. I can remember two years ago when I volunteered to help out with the holiday performance for my daughter’s Kindergarten class. I found myself in a room filled with 45 “little reindeers” looking at me like they were going to cry or throw up. I had very little time to respond as they were getting ready to go on stage. Knowing in my head that their tummies were probably filled with butterflies and their hands were shaking, I gathered them all together. I towered over them like a big Christmas tree and told them in a very soft and “mommy friendly” voice, “boys and girls I want you to listen to my voice very carefully.” I proceeded to teach them how to relax using the FOCUS Progressive Muscle Relaxation script. I was amazed at how relaxed each and every one of them became. They had a wonderful performance, and I was so proud of all of them. This is now a ritual my kids use before many performances, tests, meetings, sports events, and much more. I hope that you will find this relaxation technique and keychain as helpful as I have throughout the holiday season and all year long.