When you teach your child “calm breathing”, you are using a technique that works to slow down his/her breathing, combatting upset, stressed and anxious feelings. Teaching a child to use calm breathing to regulate their emotions is important because it shows them how to change their breathing to minimize the effects of their emotions. Your child can learn to change short, shallow breaths that can cause hyperventilation to deep, long breaths that help create a feeling of internal calmness. Short, shallow breaths tend to make feelings of anxiety and anger worse, hence calm breathing can give your child a sense of control and relief. Once your child learns these methods and techniques, they can eventually regulate their breathing and ease anxiety and anger on their own, as well as minimize the intensity of “big emotions”.
As a parent, you can help your child learn this method of coping by explaining calm breathing and then teaching calm breathing techniques. Firstly, explain that the short, quick breaths they take when anxious and upset actually makes those feelings worse. You can even explain how these breaths increase dizziness, heart racing, etc. By explaining to your child the benefits of practicing these techniques (and that they can be done typically without anyone noticing) is a great way to get them on board. Secondly, teach your child calm breathing techniques to regulate their breathing. Simply put, they can take a slow deep breath through the nose (counts of 5), hold breath for 3 seconds and then exhale slowly through mouth (counts of 5). Wait 5 seconds before next breath and repeat at least 10 times. Remember to practice this daily with your child while they are calm. If they learn to do it comfortably in a calm state they will become more comfortable and be able to use these techniques when emotionally distressed.
Below is a list of different calming techniques you can try with your child (use the count system explained above):
A super easy and fun way to teach your child how to breathe calmly is the “bubble blowing” technique. Using a soap bubble container and wand you can do this technique outside. The container can be purchased at the dollar store or any other child toy store. This is a great way to get your child to start practicing calm breathing in a non-threatening way. Have your child wait a few second before each bubble, and eventually work your way to having them practice bubble breathes without the wand. Make sure you explain to your child the bubble breaths are a way to practice calm breathing and the benefits of this technique on their anxiety, anger or emotional management. Remind your child this technique can be done at school or anywhere else without the bubble container to regulate breathing and calm down.
Belly breathing controls breaths from the diaphragm. Have your child pretend that he/she is blowing up a balloon, done by inflating the belly while inhaling. When exhaling pretend you an emptying the balloon of air, while your tummy deflates. Remember only the belly should be moving.
The Elevator Breath
Elevator breathing is extremely simple and great for younger children. Ask your child to raise their arms above their head and say “Elevator Up!” while breathing in. Then say “Elevator Down” while breathing out and slowly bringing their arms back down.
When showing your child this technique for the first time, use your fingers to draw a visual. Start at any corner you feel comfortable with, draw a square in the air. Get your child to practice this with you, inhaling for one line, exhaling for the next and repeating this order until the square is made. You can create a box with tape, or crayons etc. and use that as a visual for young children as well, labeling inhale, exhale along the lines and walking them through the steps.
Heart Breath requires you to put your hands on your heart and be mindful of the beating. You can have children make the shape of a heart with their hands, or just rest their hands on their chest feeling the beating while noticing the breathing. Breathe in and out using the count system and notice the change in heart rate and regulation in your body. You can make a visual of a heart to remind your child to take heart breaths and practice self-awareness.
Flower and Candle Breath
Ask your child to imagine smelling a beautiful flower; breathe in through the nose and pretend to take in the smell of their favorite flower. Have them visualize holding that flower in a closed fist. Then ask them to pretend they are blowing out a birthday candle, have them visualize that scenario as well. This technique helps children re-center attention through imagery and regulates their breathing.
The Peacock Breath
Give the child a feather to hold on too, ask them to inhale deeply using the counts explained above. Then exhale and watch how much they can make the feather move with their breath. This also forces them to focus on the feather and pay less attention to their “big emotions”.
Once your child learns some or all of these calming breathing techniques, you should see a difference in their emotional management, leading to quicker de-escalation and regulation of strong emotions. Remember to practice these daily with your child when they are calm, and encourage them to use them when they are in an emotional state. Remind your child that these techniques are beneficial to learn and can be helpful when they are in need of regulation. Remind the child many of these can be done without drawing attention to themselves and in secret. Lastly, calm breathing is not only a regulation technique but also a relaxation technique that helps create an overall sense of well-being and self-control.
Tania DaSilva, Founder of Thrive Therapy, Child Therapist.