Three Ways to Teach Breathing Techniques to Kids
Updated: Sep 24, 2020
Breathing deeply calms the nervous system and counters stress. Deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system- the part of our nervous system associated with rest. This helps counteract the sympathetic nervous system- the part of the nervous system that prepares the body for “fight or flight.” Breathing techniques have been shown to decrease stress hormones, and increase bonding with others. I often prescribe deep breathing and mindfulness to my adult clients who are experiencing anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, PTSD, and stress. Deep breathing is a powerful tool for children as well. No doubt that a child’s sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive during times of stress, anger, or sleep deprivation. Can you imagine the stress hormones flooding a child’s body during a tantrum? If not, you should! It can be helpful to view tantrums as a stress response in a child whose coping skills have been overwhelmed that very moment in time. I am so pleased that breathing techniques are now taught by many teachers to young children. I outline a few of these techniques below.
1) Belly Breathing: Have your child lie on her/his back and place a stuffed animal on the belly. Instruct your child to draw in deep, slow breathes so that the stuffed animal moves up and down. When the stuffed animal moves up and down, that’s belly breathing! Practice this technique regularly, so that it is familiar during times of stress.
2) Counting the breath: Counting sequences bring attention to the breath, while simultaneously slowing down the breathing rate. A popular counting sequence is 4-7-8 (4 seconds to breathe in, 7 seconds to hold the breath, and 8 seconds to exhale). This can be shortened for kids (try 3-5-6). We use a pinwheel to make this activity more fun. You can play around with counting sequences, such as 2-2-2 . As an added activity- try making the pinwheel with your child, and then practicing counting. See the link to make a pinwheel at home. We took an extra step and added color to the pencil by wrapping around tissue paper with glue (works like paper mache). https://www.firstpalette.com/craft/pinwheel.html
The expandable ball (Hoberman Sphere) for deep breathing and yoga is also great prop for breathing.
3) Themed Breathing: Animal breaths and other themed breaths can make breathing techniques fun. For example, if your child loves whales, he/she may be amused by “whale breath.” Whale breath entails a deep breath in, and a slow, whiny, high pitched exhale out. Volanco breath is another themed breath- you can see a demonstration here: https://youtu.be/75y60l-J9II
There are many examples of themed breathes in Alphabreaths: The ABCS of Mindful Breathing by Christopher Willard and Daniel Rechtschaff. Our favorite from this book is butterfly breath. Engage your child with a subject matter she/he loves.
Note- I adapted this article from a post I wrote for adults: https://www.karlabenzlmd.com/post/three-proven-breathing-techniques-to-counteract-stress
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