Zen Play Every Day

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How can you tell if your child needs relaxation?

If your offspring’s behavior is driving you nuts, it is time to work on relaxation. Kids who are tightly wound can be exhausting; they might chronically overreact, demand constant attention, or seem like they are annoying you on purpose. Really, they are overwhelmed and need help to get grounded.

Why focus on relaxation instead of behavior management?

Rewards and consequences are important in parenting. However, they work best when a child is in a calm state, which educators refer to as “available for learning.” Anxiety impairs the brain, activating the fight-or-flight reactions and inhibiting communication and the ability to make plans, and solve problems. Stress also hampers impulse-control, making tense kids act defiant before they can consider the consequences.

Building up your child’s “relaxation muscle” will help her respond to the world more effectively. She will think more clearly, make more positive choices and grow more confident and resilient. Further, when you switch your focus from her failures to her wellbeing, your relationship with her will become more secure and productive.

Teaching relaxation will turn things around with your child now, and equip her to face stress wisely for the rest of her life. It will soften your daily battles, and ease your parenting stress.

How do you teach a child to relax?

It’s easy – just start providing soothing activities every day. Help your youngster tune in to the way her body feels while she plays. With regular practice, she will begin to recognize and cultivate the feeling of calm. Her chronic stress will begin to fade, and she will feel and function better.

Start playing with the Eight Soothing Stimuli listed below. Let your child experiment and decide how long to play. Notice what works for her. Week by week, watch for a shift in her behavior: more smiles, yeses, and “I can” attitude. Tell her how much you enjoy these relaxing moments with her, and compliment her when she shows calm in other situations. Don’t forget to pat your own back for creating and maintaining this beneficial space in your busy life.

1. Physical Exertion

– Biking, hiking, jogging or tag
– Climbing, wrestling or tug of war
– Pulling a loaded wagon, sled, or blanket
– Piggyback rides or wheelbarrow races
– Bouncing on a trampoline or hoppity ball

2. Mindful Movement

– Yoga, dance, and martial arts
– Equipment that swings, spins or rocks
– Fast and Slow Game: Sprint on the spot for ten seconds, then lie still for ten. Repeat three times. Notice the changes in your breath and body.
– Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Tense your feet tightly for a slow count of ten, then relax for ten. Notice the difference in sensations, such as heaviness, heat, tingling, etc. Continue with legs, buttocks, stomach, shoulders, arms, hands, neck and face.

3. Breath Awareness

– Blow bubbles or dandelion fuzz, and watch them float away
– Blow through a straw to spread puddles of paint
– Blow on each other’s skin or hair
– Lie on your back with a toy on your belly, and give it a gentle ride up and down with deep breaths
– Take turns listening to your partner’s chest while she breathes deeply

4. Calming Food

– Eat mindfully, noticing how the food looks, feels, smells, sounds and tastes
– Prepare and eat fragrant produce or baked goods together
– Quietly drink thick liquids through a straw, or eat ponderously crunchy or chewy food
– Keep blood sugar and moods even with complex carbohydrates (like fruit and whole grains) and protein in every meal and snack.

5. Water

– Fill a sink or tray with water and add bubbles, toys, food coloring, etc.
– Run through the sprinkler; feel the contrast of hot sun and cool water
– Go swimming; paddle vigorously and float serenely
– Soak in a hot tub, bath, or splash pool
– Have a water fight, or cool off with a misting bottle

6. Sensory Play

– Bury hands in a dry bin filled with sand, rice, or beans
– Drive toys through a wet plateful of shaving cream, finger paint, or jello
– Practice copying each other’s rhythms with clapping, stomping, and instruments
– Play with pinwheels, sand or water timers, or a calming glitter bottle
– Close your eyes and guess objects by their feel, smell, sound, or taste

7. Music

– Burn off excess energy with fast, upbeat music
– Cultivate calm with lullabies, classical, folk, or reggae
– Play music in the background during playtime or chores
– Fall asleep to a mellow playlist
– Dance, sing, play along, or have a parade
– Listen quietly while cuddling or hiding out in a fort

8. Nature

– Romp around the playground
– Have a bug safari or outdoor obstacle course
– Make mud pies or a Fairy Garden
– Eat outside
– Skate, sled, or build a snowman
– Gather tidbits for crafts, or sketch interesting specimens
– Go camping or tent in the backyard

Now, go ahead and start teaching Relaxation 101 for your child. It is going to be fun! Gentler moods and powerful life skills are on the horizon for your family.

Laurie loves doing yoga videos with her high-intensity preschooler. She thanks Bob Marley’s music for saving her when she feels like putting the kids on Craigslist.