Strong emotions can be difficult to cope with even when you’re an adult, and young kids often struggle to deal with a big burst of feeling. Too young to understand how to process their feelings, an agitated child will often make themselves more upset. They need techniques that can calm the body and mind.
When you ask a kid to take a deep breath, the results generally aren’t very calming. Instead, they tend to blow up their cheeks like a balloon, or pant like a sprinter.
And while that may distract from upsetting emotions, it doesn’t exactly help to calm the body. Which is why teaching deep breathing techniques is so important.
Simple deep breathing exercises are easy to incorporate into daily playtime. When a child knows how to breathe from the belly, they have an effective way of lowering stress and tension. With this guide, we’ve collected a range of techniques that can be used to teach kids deep breathing.
Simple Starter Techniques
Squares are really simple shapes to start teaching children breathing techniques.
Begin by drawing a large square on a piece of paper. Try having the children decorate their squares with images that make them happy.
Place your finger on the bottom right corner of the square. Move the finger up the line of the square, breathing in for four seconds. Then, trace the top line of the square, breathing out for four seconds.
Repeat on the other side of the square. Move the finger down for four seconds, while breathing in. Then breathe out, as you trace the bottom line of the square.
This starter technique is important to help children learn the basics of deep breathing.
Count To 10
Breathe in on the odd numbers, and out on the even numbers, as you count to 10. Even young kids can understand this simple in and out method, and it’s a good starting point for more detailed counting techniques.
Have the children hold a finger up with each breath, so they engage better with the technique.
Waves are a popular mindfulness technique because they’re just so calming to watch.
Close your eyes, and picture the waves lapping at the shore. Breathe in as the wave rolls on to the beach, and out as it pulls back to the sea. Make the whooshing sound of the wave with each exhale.
Using Props To Teach Deep Breathing Techniques
Props help kids to engage if they’re struggling with deep breathing. Use a straw to focus the breath, and help them visualize the air going in and out of the belly. With a straw, they won’t be able to take a really deep breath, but feeling the air go in and out helps the physical motion.
Bubble blowing is so fun to do that it hardly feels like a deep breathing technique at all. But because you have to be careful with their breathing to create the bubble, you are learning to take controlled breaths. All you need is a basic bubble blower and some washing up liquid.
There are two ways to use feathers to encourage deep breathing.
The first option is to take a deep breath in, and exhale, using the breath to ruffle one side of the feather. Breathe in again, and breathe out, moving the breath down the other side.
Otherwise, have kids follow with their fingers. Move the finger up the feather as they breathe in for four, and down the other way as they breathe out. Good for kids who enjoy a tactile form of play.
Rock The Toy To Sleep
Lay on your back, with a stuffed toy balanced on your belly. As you breathe in, the belly expands, and the toy moves up. Breathe out, the belly shrinks, and the toy moves back down. As the teddy moves with the belly, the movement sends the toy to sleep.
Using Shapes To Teach Deep Breathing Techniques
The up and down shape of a simple mountain range is a fantastic visual sign for deep breathing. Trace the finger up the mountain, and breathe in for four. Then go down the mountain, exhaling for four.
Keep going, until you’re out of mountains. Encourage kids to picture the mountain scenery as they go, to bring extra calm.
The three lines of a triangle introduce “hold” into breathing techniques. Move the finger up the side of the triangle, inhaling for four. As you move your finger down the other side, hold the breath for four. Then, exhale for four on the bottom line of the triangle.
Draw an open spiral, with a very simple shape. Trace along the spiral, breathing in deeply as you go. Make sure kids are filling their bellies with air as they follow the spiral. When you reach the middle, move the finger back around the other way, and let all the air out.
An infinity symbol, or an 8 that’s fallen over, is another shape that can be used for breathing techniques.
Place the figure in the middle of the infinity symbol. Trace the loop on one side until your finger is back in the middle, inhaling as you go. Trace the other loop of the symbol, letting the breath back out.
Finger breaths follow the same principle as shapes. Inhale as the finger moves up the finger, and exhale down the other side. Keep going until all 10 fingers have been traced.
Using Online GIFs
There are plenty of videos and GIFs online that use shapes expanding and withdrawing to demonstrate a breathing cycle. With set timings helping to regulate the breath, these are a great technique.
Search “calming shape GIFs” to find some examples.
Shape GIFs are fantastic for teaching timings, but they’re less “hands-on” than some other techniques.
Using The Imagination To Teach Deep Breathing Techniques
Blow Out The Candle
Even kids who know nothing about deep breathing will know how to blow out candles on a birthday cake. You take a deep breath in, and then “whoosh” to blow them out. Ask them to imagine a birthday cake covered in candles, and they have to blow them all out.
Smell The Flower
Either use a real flower, or imagine picking a pretty flower from the garden. Take a deep breath in, and hold for four, imagining the scent of this lovely flower. Exhale for four with a big breath out.
Combine candles and flowers to encourage the best of both techniques. In the one hand, they have a candle, in the other, a flower. Smell the flower, and then blow out the candle.
Kids love party blowers (even if parents aren’t as big a fan). A big breath in brings the imaginary blower curling inwards. Hold for four. Then, breathe out, making a blower noise as you go. Not quite as calming as other techniques, but it helps to get kids engaged.
Hold the hands beneath the chin, with the fingers interlaced. Breathe in through the nose, lifting the elbows up. Tip the head out, and exhale through the mouth, unleashing the hot breath of a dragon. Lower the elbows with the exhalation.
Hissing Snake Breaths
A very simple technique. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth, making the hissing noise of a snake.
Buzzing Bumblebee Breaths
Bumblebee breaths encourage mindfulness, and is based on an old technique. Sit with the legs crossed, eyes closed, and fingers in the ear. Breath in, and hold for four. As you breathe out, hum. With the fingers in the ears, the low buzz of the hum is methodical and relaxing.
Using The Body To Teach Deep Breathing Techniques
Hot Air Balloon
Using the body can help kids to better understand the physical aspect of deep breathing.
Sit on the floor, and cup the hands around the mouth. Take a deep breath in, imagining the belly expanding with air. With a big breath out, empty the air into an imaginary balloon in front of the mouth, expanding your hands outwards as if holding the balloon.
Hold the index fingers pointing out and towards each other in front of the face. Take a deep breath in through the nose, circling the fingers towards you. Exhale through the mouth, circling the fingers away, and making the noise of a tumble dryer.
Shoulder rolls are super relaxing, and make the body feel good. Bring the shoulders up to the ears on an inhale of four. Exhale for four, dropping the shoulders. Repeat several times.
Parents may want to remember this technique as well!
Silly Nostril Breathing
Cover one nostril with the index finger, and breathe in through the other. Then, switch which nostril is being covered, and exhale.
This technique works well when kids are upset because it’s so silly.
Exploding breaths use the whole body. Inhale in a standing position, and crouch down, making everything but the belly small. Breathe out, and jump outwards.
Hopping Bunny Breaths
Hold your hands curled under your chin like bunny paws. Take three short sharp breaths in, and one long exhale. Finish it with a hop! Having bunny paws might not help the breathing, but it turns a simple technique into a fun game.
Other Tips And Tricks
Counting Techniques For Older Children
Use different counting patterns to help older children with their breathing techniques. With 5-5-10, breath in for 5, hold for 5, and exhale for 10. 4-7-8 is another good pattern to try.
Tactile learners can craft shapes and props to help with their breathing. Flowing crêpe paper is fun to exhale over, or try making a spinning wheel. Draw shapes and encourage the children to decorate them.
A few minutes of practice every day can make a real difference. Kids should be confident with these techniques before they’re needed. Incorporate breathing into playtime. Many of these techniques are fun, and encourage children to use their imagination.
Change up which technique you use, and find which the kids prefer. Different breathing techniques can help in different situations.
Get involved! Deep breaths are definitely needed from time to time when raising children. Play along and help demonstrate counting, and show how to breathe using the belly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Teach Young Kids Deep Breathing?
Kids often have to deal with strong emotions that they aren’t sure how to express. Stress, excitement, anger, and disappointment can cause a rollercoaster of feeling when you don’t know how to deal with them.
Deep breathing calms the body and the mind, helping kids feel better. Deep breathing can also help with anxiety.
How Do You Incorporate Deep Breathing For Kids Into Daily Activities?
Deep breathing activities can be added into playtime really easily. Use some imagination techniques at the end of play, to calm kids down. Crafting and deep breathing can also work together. Try a few minutes of deep breathing before bed, to feel the effects on the body.
How Do You Use Deep Breathing When Your Child Is Upset?
When your child gets upset, use deep breathing techniques that you’ve practiced previously to help them work through some difficult emotions.
Begin by making a connection with the child. Duck down to their eye level, and give them a point of physical contact if they want one. Maintain eye contact.
Speak in a calming way, and help them to express what emotion they’re feeling. Once you’ve put it into words, the child should feel acknowledged, and understand their own emotions.
Find a quiet space, if possible.
Work together at deep breathing. Use a technique the child has enjoyed in the past, and try to make it fun. Breathe along with them, carefully maintaining a rhythm.
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