In Therapy

Anxiety is a normal reaction to certain life events. At times, anxiety can be helpful. But other times, anxiety can start to interfere and to negatively impact a person’s daily functioning. As a parent, it can be very stressful to see your children worrying so much that it begins to affect their life – including sleep, schoolwork, and social relationships.

One way you can help is to teach your child healthy ways to manage anxiety. One research-supported technique is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation, or PMR. This strategy involves tightening and then relaxing the different muscle groups in the body.

This technique can be complicated for children, so it may be helpful for you, as the parent, to walk through and coach your child on the steps of the process.

Tip: Practicing the Skill

In order to be really successful at coaching your child through these exercises, it is beneficial for the parent to practice these skills also. The better you are at understanding how to relax your own body, the better you will be at explaining how to do so for your child.

Step 1: Finding a Quiet Place

When a child is first learning how to do PMR, it is best to find a quiet place to practice the skills. This way the child can be free from distractions and really focus on relaxation.  Eventually though, a child may be able to implement these same steps in any location!

Step 2: Setting Up

After finding a quiet place, make sure that your child is dressed comfortably – wearing loose-fitting clothes and removing shoes. Then, try to find a comfortable place for your child to sit or to lay down while performing the exercises.  Make sure that your child’s legs and arms are uncrossed and eyes are closed.

Tip: Remembering to Breathe

Sometimes children (and adults) can forget to breathe during PMR as they are focusing so much on the tensing and relaxing of the muscle groups. Remind your child to take deep breaths throughout the entire exercise.

Step 3: Tensing (and then Relaxing!)

Explain to your child that you will begin with the toes. Your child should tense the muscles in his toes and hold for five seconds.

When tensing the muscles, it is important to really exert energy into the causing the tension. This may cause your child some slight discomfort. You also may notice some shaking in the muscle group being targeted. This is normal; however, explaining this to your children ahead of time may be helpful!

After holding for five seconds, have your child release the tension and relax his toes.

Tip: Explaining How to Tense

As the parent, you can help explain how to tense each muscle. For example, with the toes, you can ask your child to curl his toes under as far as he can or to point his toes as straight as he can towards the wall.

Step 4: Traveling up the Body

You will then walk your child through each part of his body, slowly moving up to the different muscle groups. With larger muscle groups, such as the legs and arms, it can be useful to isolate one side at a time. First choosing the right side and then repeating the exercise on the left side.

Here’s an outline that you can follow when walking your child through PMR:

  • Toes
  • Feet
  • Calves
  • Right Leg
  • Left Leg
  • Abdomen
  • Back
  • Chest
  • Right Arm
  • Left Arm
  • Fingers
  • Right Shoulder
  • Left Shoulder
  • Neck
  • Face
  • Eyes

Practice Makes Perfect

Try to set aside a time for your child to practice these skills.  As your child becomes more experienced, he may be able to complete PMR without any coaching and to use the skills independently when he is anxious or worried!

Statistics estimate that approximately 60% of children diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, do not receive the therapy they need. 

To schedule an appointment for your child for anxiety therapy, contact info@foundationspediatrics.com

Contact Foundations Pediatrics for questions or to schedule an appointment for your child.

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Dr. Jill Driest is the founder of Foundations Pediatrics and a licensed psychologist in the state of Florida. She graduated with her Bachelors degree from the University of Florida and received her Masters and Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Nova Southeastern University.
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