Meditation, guided relaxation, mindfulness – there are many similarities between these different practices. To have long lasting positive benefits, like healthy eating and exercising, we need to establish a consistent habit. The Youth Fairy therapists are qualified Solution Focused Hypnotherapists and a core part of our practice and therapy is hypnotherapy (which can also be described as guided relaxation).

When working with families and within schools we encourage those we work with to develop regular habits to support positive change and move towards a positive goal and a preferred future. This includes listening to a guided relaxation audio recording every night before going to sleep. We sometimes see improvements in a child’s sleep, mood and behaviour before we begin sessions. This is as a result of having an understanding of how their brain works (which we explain in the initial consultation), starting a practice of writing down each night things that have been good about their day, in combination with listening to the relaxation every night.

It is a wonderful feeling when we truly relax; we feel the benefits in our body, in our nervous system and it can positively impact our mood, our motivation and our actions, when we regularly practice deep relaxation (such as meditation or hypnosis) we also unlock our creativity and problem-solving. However, in the busy world that we live in with constant connections and 24/7 entertainment, relaxation is a skill that we need to learn, develop and practice. Many of us, and our children, find it difficult to ‘stop’.  There is always something for us to do. It is becoming rarer for us to sit and day-dream, to be bored and not to be stimulated in some way. Have you noticed how many people walk (or run) with headphones? We are constantly keeping our conscious mind active. How often do you use time in the car to make a call? How often do you listen to an audiobook when you walk the dog? Can you recall a time when you sat in silence or just simply relaxed?

As our ability to relax is decreasing, this is even more true for our children. They are the multi-tasking generation. Have you noticed how easily they interact with multiple apps or windows? How they do their homework whilst watching YouTube? or how (if we let them) they will be watching a gaming video on YouTube whilst playing another game?  If we think of our brain like a computer with lots of windows open, multiple applications all running at the same time, relaxation is like closing all those applications down.

When we relax, we can help the amygdala (the fight flight part of the brain) to reduce its control on our behaviour and responses.  The amygdala’s job is to keep us safe and when we are stressed and anxious it hijacks the intellectual part of the brain and shuts down our ability to make a proper assessment of a situation or to be creative in finding solutions. When we learn to relax and make relaxation part of our healthy practices, our ability to cope with stress improves, our mood improves and we are happier and calmer.  When we spend time relaxing, we allow our subconscious mind to process our thoughts, plans and intentions, and we increase serotonin (the feel-good chemical) and reduce cortisol (the stress chemical).

How to help children develop relaxation skills:

  • Do it! Model it. Our lives are so busy and initially it might feel like another thing on your to do list. But our children are always watching us and if we want them to be better at relaxing and meditating, we need to be modelling this behaviour.
  • Practise breathing exercises. Start with teaching how to breathe properly. Many adults and children take shallow breaths and do not know how to breath from their diaphragm. Deep breathing slows our heart rate, introduces more oxygen into the blood stream, which increases our energy, and also lets the brain know that we are ready to relax. It helps to combat cortisol and increases endorphins (another feel-good chemical). Deep breathing is so good for us but it takes practice.
    • Children can be taught to relax and can learn to use this technique when faced with stressful situations. You can encourage them to practise diaphragmatic breathing every day, for example, when they wake up in the morning, and the more they do so, the more they will become confident in using it.
    • Here are 2 breathing techniques you can teach a child. At first its best to have them lying down to learn the proper way to breathe. Then you can expand this exercise by having them sitting upright in a chair or couch. Have them lying on their back and ask them to put their hand on their belly so they can feel their belly rise (on the in-breath) and fall (on the out-breath).
      • Breathe in slowly through their nose and out through their mouth like they are trying to move a feather up in the air.
      • Breathe in slowly then hold their breath for 1,2,3. Breath out and say the word ‘relax’ to themselves in a calm internal voice.
    • This is more important as children get older and especially important for teenagers. Creating a relaxing space and encouraging your child to take time to relax. This may be a den or a bean bag for a younger child, or a space within their own bedroom for a teenager. Remove distractions, especially devices. Suggest they leave these somewhere else while they relax. Having a particular blanket or cushion that you use when you relax together will also give them an association that this is now the time we relax.
    • Start with a short amount of time and use a timer, this way it feels less intimidating.
    • Prompts and audio. You could make suggestions or give a list to choose from of things they could choose to focus on in this time. This takes the pressure off wondering what they are ‘supposed to do’ or ‘supposed to think about’ in this time.
      • They could think about the good things from their day, acts of kindness, imagine their favourite holiday or favourite place to be.
      • They could look out the window and notice the different things they can see and hear.
      • There are also some good apps that could be used (if you are confident that they won’t get pulled back in to their devices), Headspace is one that many teenagers mention to us.
      • We also have The Youth Fairy relaxation audio which we give to families when they visit us for an initial consultation or when children attend The Youth Fairy Schools’ Programme.
    • Stories. Tell a story, especially with younger children. You can use your imagination and use their favourite character or animal. Somewhere in your story the character stops and takes a breath, notices the things around them and begins to relax – through the story you can guide your child through their relaxation.

We notice in our sessions with children that relaxation looks very different for every child and may look very different to what we imagine.  Some children will embrace it, lie back, and close their eyes and not move a muscle. But many will wiggle and jiggle around, may pick up a fiddle toy, play with their laces, and keep their eyes open. This is absolutely fine. As they practice deep breathing and begin to notice the changes in their body, they will find it easier to engage with the relaxation.

Children are often much more likely to engage in relaxation when they do it before bed. Any excuse to extend the bedtime routine and not to go to sleep! Together you might enjoy a wonderful calm down time and (mostly) enable them to sleep very easily with no more requests for drinks, etc.

What next?

When can you see yourself introducing some relaxation into your day for you and your children?

When can you see yourself first doing this?

What can you do now?  You can begin supporting your child in having a tool they can use to help them relax in stressful situations, to help improve their sleep and increase their serotonin and endorphins (those lovely feel-good chemicals).

Additional resources:

The Youth FairyBedtime Bliss

This is a link to one of the relaxations that Sian Noon, founder of The Youth Fairy, made available to parents during lockdown.

HeadspaceHead Space

This is a relaxation app (suitable for adults and children). Please be aware that this is a subscription-based app and has fees attached.  This app is recommended by the NHS “Headspace is a science-backed app in mindfulness and meditation, providing unique tools and resources to help reduce stress, build resilience, and aid better sleep.” There are other apps available.

Relaxation Activities (Save the Children Resources)