Relaxation through play

Relaxation through play
Children need to move, but also to relax. Calming activities for 2-year-olds and up.


Even though they are bursting with energy, children still need opportunities to calm down. They often need some help doing so. Discover fun ways to help a toddler relax.

The benefits of relaxation for children

A child can learn how to relax starting at two years old. Relaxation allows them to enhance their attention span, quality of learning, and well-being. Relaxation can also improve their sense of security, balance their mood, and help with falling asleep.

Unlike adults, a toddler is not able to relax by being still and staying quiet. They need to feel tangible experiences through their body. This is why relaxation for children requires play.

Two to three minutes of relaxation each day can provide lasting benefits. Choose three or four games from these stretching and self-massage games. Subsequently, finish with breathing games, because they are the most effective for stress relief. Feel free to adapt the games or add to them, if necessary.

To learn more about how to calm a child, have a look at our fact sheet Helping your child calm down.

Games to help children relax

Stretching games

  • Slowly mimic a flower growing with your child. Repeat the game several times by naming different kinds of flowers (e.g., “Grow like a daisy, like a rose, like a dandelion...”). Let your child come up with different movements for each flower.
Encouraging your toddler’s creativity and imagination contributes to the relaxing benefits of the games.
  • Imitate animals together: A cat rounding its back, then flattening it out again; a giraffe slowly lengthening its neck; a dog stretching out slowly; a butterfly opening and closing its wings.
  • Encourage your child to slowly pick rays of sunlight after pushing aside the clouds that cover the sky. You can also tell them to pick different kinds of fruit from a tree or the stars out of the sky.
  • Ask your toddler to rock a bear or doll to the sound of soothing music or a soft song.

Self-massage games

Relaxation games are more effective when you are calm and composed.
  • Encourage your child to relax by having them massage their own forehead, cheeks, neck, head, hands, or feet using small circular movements. Do the same in order to demonstrate how they can massage themselves. Your child learns a lot by imitating what you do.
  • Take turns to draw on each other’s backs using your finger. Sitting one behind the other, have fun slowly drawing shapes or making an imaginary drawing on the other person’s back.

Breathing games

  • Finger candles
    Make your hand into a three- to five-pronged chandelier by spreading your fingers apart. Tell your child to gently blow out each candle. Repeat the game two to three times. Long breaths promote relaxation.
  • That smells good!
    Have your toddler smell soap with a delicate scent or smell their favourite food. Repeat the game with different things to smell.
  • Hot or cold breath
    Ask your child to gently blow against their hand with their mouth wide open to feel the warmth of their breath. Then, suggest that they make an “o” shaped mouth and blow again to feel if their breath is cooler. Repeat the game two or three times.
Long live laughter!
Encourage your child to laugh whenever there is an opportunity. Take the time to laugh along with them! Laughter provides excellent exercise for the lungs and relaxes muscles helping to reduce stress and release excess energy. Laughter also promotes the secretion of endorphins, hormones that produce feelings of well-being.

An environment conducive to relaxation

It may be difficult for your child to relax in a noisy and stressful environment. Below are guidelines to reduce sensory stimulation and stress in your toddler’s surroundings.

  • Don’t be impatient when asking your toddler to calm down. Instead, use a soft voice, speak slowly, and limit the number of instructions.
  • Organize your schedule to avoid having to hurry your child.
  • Ask your child if they want to look at a book or draw instead of watching TV or playing on a tablet or smartphone.
  • Have fun listening to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or soft music at different times of the day.
  • Make them guess words that you whisper in their ear. Ask them to repeat them in a soft voice.
  • Reduce bright lighting and noise in the evening. Also avoid sound-emitting toys and intense physical activities, e.g., do not play tag in the house.
Does your child not like to relax?
Suggest a change in activity, getting away from the action, or slowing down. If space allows, set up a place in the house with cushions, comforters, stuffed animals, and books, where the child can go to calm down whenever they feel the need.

Things to keep in mind

  • Doing two or three minutes of relaxation a day with your toddler can improve their attention span, quality of learning, and well-being.
  • Stretching, self-massage, and breathing games help your child relax, because they can calm themselves with activities using their body.
  • Creating a calm environment by reducing the stimulation and stress in your child’s surroundings promotes relaxation.

 

Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Nicole Malenfant, professor of early childhood education
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: September 2019

 

Photo: iStock.com/BanksPhotos

 

Useful links and resources

  • ENGEL, Christiane. Le yoga pour les petits. Éditions de l’Imprévu, 2017, 36 pp.
  • MALENFANT, Nicole. Jeux de relaxation. Pour des enfants détendus et attentifs. Bruxelles, De Boeck, 2010, 122 pp.
  • MARTEL, Sylvie and Marie-Hélène TAPIN. Yoganimo. Saint-Lambert, Éditions Enfants Québec, 2009, 32 pp.
  • SNEL, Eline. Calme et attentif comme une grenouille. Éditions Transcontinental, 2013, 144 pp.
  • ST-PIERRE, Louise et al. Mon premier livre de yoga du rire. Dominique et compagnie, 2016, 32 pp.

 

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