Freeman Medical Musings Blog


Relaxation Skills: Listening for the Train

Posted by Dr. Kimberly Fielding, on June 04, 2015

Relaxation skills are vital for good mental health. For children, it's important that they learn to master these skills at a young age. Not only is practicing these skills important, but the long term benefits help children build resiliency to face challenges. The ability to stay calm during a stressful situation is a lifelong effort.

Several railroad tracks roam like rivers in southwest Missouri. Many times throughout each day, I hear a distant whistle or rumbling along the tracks. As a practical measure, I try to use that noise as a cue to stop, take a mental rest and listen during one of those opportunities. I am also one to sit at the guard gates and actually rest as the train rolls by. In my porch rocking chair, I close my eyes and focus on the sounds. Once, I wondered how beneficial “listening for the train” might become for my young grand-daughter. 

She was not aware of the sound when I first introduced it – which is precisely the point! I wanted to bring it into her awareness and help her utilize the new experience as a possible relaxation technique. I began by reading books that included trains, with an emphasis on the sound of a train whistle. Then, while we were outside, it was inevitable that we would soon hear the sound of the train. A whispered “Listen!” sparked her curiosity. In rhythm with the train’s whistle, I would say train and make my own whistle noise – the one she was familiar with. Soon, she began to say the word “train,” too.

We continued this exercise often with smiles, some caring physical touch and shared emotions – from curiosity, to joy when it’s time to “listen” and gratitude for the chance. The books were still relevant, but I noticed she was looking for more details than the pictures. Rather, we moved towards actual experiences to reinforce the relaxation benefits of listening for the train. At home, we would stop and cuddle in a sitting position when either one of us would call attention to a “train” during our time together. Our typical routine included a few conscious, deep breaths. In the car, she could see the big machines as we passed by and would experiment with her own whistle sounds to represent the train. Other times, we made sure to wave and thank the trains for being our friends.

These relaxation skills can be simple in technique, but powerful in the benefits they provide. The simplicity helps to maximize an ordinary opportunity to purposely calm down. Children and parents alike face stressors in daily life – build the capacity to find solutions by investing during the relaxed moments.