RELAXATION PROGRAMME TO HELP CHILDREN MANAGE THEIR EMOTIONS

Reviewed by Angelina Veiga, Psychotherapist, Centre for Professional Therapy

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Langensiepen, a teacher who is trained in the Autogenic Relaxation technique, writes a straightforward manual on using Autogenic Therapy for children. Autogenics is a technique which stimulates a soothing effect on the autonomous nervous system. Once learnt and incorporated into a daily routine, the child begins to experience greater well being. The exercises can be done at home or at school and can be used at any time of the day. The child gains the skills to tap into their own mind and body when they need further support in order to manage a stressful situation or to improve their clarity and concentration.

Langensiepen advocates using and teaching this technique with children who may experience:

—states of stress and anxiety

—psychosomatic illness

—difficulties in concentration

—sleep disturbances including difficulty in falling asleep.

She believes that the positive benefits of this technique can result in the child experiencing:

—greater confidence, improved memory, focus and concentration

—less illness

—better sleep

—relaxation

—greater inner strength.

The book is broken up into four parts:
Part A: Adult’s Introduction—three chapters which outline why children need relaxation, relaxation at home and relaxation at school.
Part B: Children’s Introduction—two chapters focusing on what relaxation is and introduces Deeno the dinosaur, the child’s relaxation companion. It also looks at the benefits and practicalities of relaxation and how to set up and monitor the programme.
Part C: The Six Week Programme—which states how the programme should be run, with introductionary and follow-up exercises, as well as a step-by-step guide to each week’s theme.
Part D: Resources—a short chapter on where to find further resources on relaxation for children, Autogenic Therapy, parenting and other areas of interest.

The Autogenics relaxation technique is learnt and practised over a six-week period. It is advised that the parent, teacher or facilitator reads the book first so they can familiarise themselves with the technique. This would be very wise, as the success of the technique relies on the provision of a safe and quiet space, and an open mind to trusting that the body can control stress responses while working in conjunction with the messages the mind tells us. It reminds me of Dr Susan Jeffers’ audio CD (and book) Feel the fear and do it anyway, which champions that the messages we tell ourselves shape how we engage with ourselves and those around us. This book goes one step further in teaching the body to soothe and regulate itself by tapping into pre-programme physiological memories which link into previously felt states of relaxation.

Each week, a new story is introduced. Each story links to a basic exercise to promote a state of relaxation. The exercises are taught in this order: Heaviness, Warmth, Breath, Heart, Solar Plexus or Stomach and Forehead. The story teaches an affirmation to be remembered and practised. These affirmations are called magic words. The previous week’s magic words are built upon until the programme is complete. The child is then instructed how to create their own magic words (affirmations) which can be used with the previously learnt series of affirmations or on its own.

After the six-week programme, the full affirmation that the child learns is:
—I am feeling very calm and relaxed.
—My arms and legs are heavy.
—My arms and legs are warm.
—My breathing is calm and regular.
—My heartbeat is calm and regular.
—My stomach is wonderfully warm.
—My forehead is nice and cool.

The stories are fun and imaginative. They can be used independently from the programme on a sessional basis to invite a child to experience periods of imaginative exploration and inner stillness.

Langensiepen stresses the importance of building this technique into a daily routine, practising it three times a day (in the morning, afterschool and before bed). As this becomes routine, the technique becomes ingrained in the child, and the messages become programmed within the body. After this is learnt the child will have gained the capacities to induce body states of relaxation at will. Each story calls for the closing of the exercise using the same language and sequence so that the person safely exits the relaxation state. The forehand exercise is not used at bedtimes as it works to energise the child.

The child can either read the programme and implement it themselves or a facilitator can read the programme and guide them through the stories. My sense is that the child would benefit more from having someone facilitate the programme for them. The programme consists of a warm.up activity, stories and the points of discussion. Having a facilitator could enable the child to tease out what they are experiencing or have experienced in the past during the points of discussion. The points of discussion support the association of the positive memories of the feeling body, while the follow-up exercises reinforce the learning. If the story is read to the child, the child can enter into the imaginative and relaxation states as the story is told, instead of having to do it in retrospect.

Langensiepen makes no age or developmental stage recommendations, although one would imagine that this book would work well with young adolescents to preteens. Younger children may lack the discipline and cognitive ability to carry out the self-practice which is essential in ensuring that this technique is learnt and programmed. Using this book with people with intellectual disabilies would entail that the person has the abilities to engage with all or part of the programme.

This book is a wonderful introduction into the field of Autogenic Therapy and can extend into the practice of mindfulness. It gives children tools that they can use throughout their lives. I would recommend this book to parents or anyone working with children who want to introduce a reflective and calming exercise or the tools to self-soothe during heightened emotional states. The stories could be modified so that they are more age-appropriate for older teenagers, young adults or adults.

As people recognise that the messages they tell themselves play a large role in how they view and behave in the world, and that these messages correlate with states in the body, there is the possibility for people to experience less stress and a more grounded and positive state of being. Deeno’s dream journeys in the big blue bubble certainly gives the tools to do just that!

RELAXATION PROGRAMME TO HELP CHILDREN MANAGE THEIR EMOTIONS, by Julia Langensiepen, 2010- Illustrated by Gerry Turley. Jessica Kinglsey Publishing, 116 Pentonville Road, London N1 9JB. ISBN: 978 1 84905 039 5

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