When Liz Stroebel goes to the dentist, she says, "I always take my 16 pals with me." Her pals, not all of them benign, by any means, are the "body friends" she and her husband Dr. Charles F. Stroebel, psychiatrist and physiologist, invented to help translate their anti-stress work into a context that could be comprehensible to children.

As it turned out, children adapt to the Quieting Reflex (QR) a lot faster than do either their parents or their teachers. A growing number of children, ranging in age from about 4 to about 16, are learning the QR method of protecting themselves against the ravages of uncontrolled stress, Stroebel says. The method is taught in schools in the Australian outback, as well as in scattered settings throughout the United States and Canada. She and her husband run a clinic and research center in Hartford, Conn.

Following on the success of Kiddie QR, and the pals Liz Stroebel takes along to her root canals -- octopus, fighty fist, finger balloons, rigid robot, grouchy head, magic breathing holes, body bubble pipe and magic jaw string among others -- the Stroebels developed a slightly more sophisticated version for preteens and teens, the ages where stress becomes more complicated and every feeling, good or bad, is heightened by awakening sexuality. ::

Liz Stroebel was in Takoma Park recently, conducting a seminar on stress in children sponsored by the Washington Institute of Contemporary Issues. To an audience heavily packed with teachers, Stroebel, a teacher herself for more than two decades, and co-lecturer Miriam J. Williams Wilson, a former emergency room nurse, talked about the concept of stress in kids, something not believed to exist until just a few years ago. Wilson is director of the Stress and Biofeedback Center for Children in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and bases much of her approach on the earlier work of the Stroebels. Kids, they noted, don't have to deal with mortgages, electric bills, deadlines, unbalanced checkbooks and no-show babysitters.

Still, as the Stroebels wrote in a chapter of their book, "Stress in Childhood" (AMS Press, Inc. 1984), "Young children seem to adapt happily, with very few stress-related problems, until they encounter the discipline, confinement and pressure of parental expectations that accompany starting school at the age of 5 or 6." Speculating that a "body safety skill" like QR may be inborn, the Stroebels wrote, "It is only extinguished or overwhelmed as children encounter the frequent arousal and stress levels of classroom and peer-pressure life. When children do begin to experience such tension, their physiological responses are often identical to those of adults, except that children have fewer choices than adults in avoiding stressful situations."

No mortgages, but plenty of what Liz

Stroebel calls "the dreads." No leaking roof, but "if I'm not first inside the door I'll be trampled." No missing babysitter, but "it's raining and I can't remember if the dog is in or out." No boss on the warpath, but maybe a teacher on the warpath or a parent who drinks or a friend who left you out of a party or a math quiz or just not knowing what's coming next.

What QR does for children and adolescents, says Liz Stroebel, "is to help them understand that every single cell in the body has the ability to talk to every other single cell. And," she will ask a group of children, "don't you want to give it the right message?"

It's not a bad concept for adults either, Stroebel says. She spoke of a cardiologist who came to the Stroebel clinic for treatment of migraines, and she told him she was going to teach him how to talk to his blood vessels. She recalls that he said, " 'This is ridiculous. Is this what I'll learn in your clinic?' Now," says Stroebel, "he's teaching all his colleagues how to talk to their blood vessels." ::

Using QR, the children learn that fighty fist, rigid robot and grouchy head are symptoms of stress that can be undone by finger balloons (curl your hand in front of your mouth, take a deep, easy breath and gently, softly, blow up an imaginary balloon through your fingers), octopus (unclench a clenched fist and wiggle your fingers over your head) and gently breathe in good feelings and let the bad feelings flow out through magic breathing holes in your feet.

QR was initially developed to wean adults from biofeedback equipment. It was devised by Charles Stroebel as a six-second reversal of the fight-or-flight response as described by the late Hans Selye, and as a relaxation of faulty muscle bracing as described by University of Washington physiologist George Whatmore. (This faulty bracing, especially of neck and back muscles, is called "dysponesis," a word, says Liz Stroebel, that even the youngest QR practitioners love to learn and drop into their conversations with adults.)

Generally, the Stroebels have found that it takes an adult about six months of practice to incorporate QR as an almost automatic reversal of inappropriate fight or flight. Children, including the adolescents, can absorb it much faster. Disney Productions, with Liz Stroebel as consultant, has prepared a sensitive short film about an adolescent girl who cannot compete in her beloved gymnastics because she must take care of her younger brother while her mother, a single parent, is at work. It is a moving and revealing dramatization of everyday stress, without ever actually saying so.

But Liz Stroebel warns, there are ways and ways of teaching relaxation in the classroom. In fact, even QR has come under criticism from some right-wing groups as "brain washing" or "mind control." One Florida columnist called it "poppycock" and wrote that "I'm sure none of {a group of kids doing deep breathing} knew a mantra from a granola bar."

Still, Stroebel does see problems with certain visualizations and believes that TM (transcendental meditation) has no place in the classroom. For example, she warns against visualizations that are in themselves frightening. "One child came home and talked excitedly about everybody 'swimming around in a warm bathtub and getting rid of all the bad feelings. Then when it was time for class to begin, we just pulled the plug and all the bad feelings went down the drain.' Well," says Stroebel, "they've all read 'Stuart Little,' and you know who went down that drain . . . It can be a very scary image." (It was, you may not recall, Stuart himself, E.B. White's engaging mouse, who got sucked down the drain.) ::

Stroebel likes a picture and a letter she received from a Connecticut first grader. The picture, pre-QR training, was of a droopy figure with the caption, "I am not dumb." The post-QR letter, printed unevenly, said, "Dear Liz, I love QR because it cools me down when I'm hot, and when I'm scared I use it then I'm not scared. Love, Cory." Resources

For information on Kiddie QR and QR for Adolescents, audio tapes and teaching cards, write Quieting Reflex Publications, Wethersfield, Conn. 06109. For information on "Expectations: A Story About Stress," write Walt Disney Educational Media Co., 500 S. Buena Vista, Burbank, Calif. 91521 or call 800-621-2131. The 23-minute film is not a home video but is available to schools, libraries, etc. for $400 in VHS or $530 in 16 mm. "QR The Quieting Reflex" by Dr. Charles F. Stroebel, Berkeley Press, 1983. Paperback.