Inside: A child therapist's favorite ways to help kids learn to take a deep breath, including quick explanations and videos of deep breathing techniques.
Have you ever told a kid to take a deep breath, and then they start hyperventilating? Or they breathe in, but don’t breathe out?
Sometimes, kids may need a little more help to figure out how to properly take a deep breath.
First, let’s review why deep breathing matters.
When you are calm, your body is in what is known as “rest and digest” mode. Your breathing is normal, your muscles are relaxed, and your heart rate is normal. It's how you would be when you’re watching a show and relaxing.
But then suddenly, a dinosaur is chasing you!!
When you experience a stressful event (like an unexpected dinosaur in your living room), your body automatically goes into what is known as “flight, fight or freeze” mode. Your heart rate increases, your stomach stops digestion, and your breathing becomes more shallow.
The goal of calming exercises is to get yourself from “flight, fight or freeze” mode back to “rest and digest” mode. Deep breathing helps get more oxygen into your bloodstream, opening up your capillaries. It has a physical effect on your body to help you calm down and lower stress.
So deep breathing does make a big difference for kids. But how can we teach them to take a deep breath properly?
Here are some of my favorite ways to introduce deep breathing!
Quick note: The breathing we want kids to do is deep belly breaths, not shallow chest breaths. When they breathe in, their belly should expand, and when they breathe out, their belly should contract.
DEEP BREATHING USING PROPS
Blowing gently to create bubbles is a good way to be playful and breathe deeply. Kids have to blow carefully and slowly to make the bubbles, which is a major reason why I like using it to help kids take deep breaths.
Use a stuffed animal to practice deep breathing
Have your child lay down on their back and put a stuffed animal on their belly. Have them breathe in and move the stuffed animal up, then breathe out and bring the stuffed animal back down. This helps teach kids to use their belly to take big deep breaths. Another alternative is to use a weighted stuffed animal.
Use a pinwheel
Kids can practice breathing out slowly or more quickly, using the speed of the pinwheel as a measure. Then they can figure out which way works and feels best for them.
Use a Feather
Get some colored feathers and pick out one feather to use. It could be a color that they love or one that makes them feel calm. Breathe in and hold it for a count of 3, then breathe out going up on one side of the feather and down the other side.
Breathe in and expand the sphere, breathe out and push the sphere back in (this mirrors what should be happening to their belly)
Make a craft using half a paper plate, crepe paper or ribbons. Have kids blow the crepe paper or ribbons as they take deep breaths.
1. Paper plate - cut in half
2. crepe paper - cut into 6" - 8" strips, cut in half
3. yarn or string
4. any other embellishments to make the creature (use what you have on hand)
markers, crayons or colored pencils
Attach the crepe paper to the flat bottom of the paper plate. Attach yarn/string to the top center of the curved part of the paper plate as a hanger.Have kids decorate the paper plate any way they want, as a monster, or a creature, or with stickers.
To Use: hang up the creature and have kids blow on the crepe paper to get it to move.
Start at the bottom left of the triangle.
Breathe in for three counts as you trace the first side of the triangle.
Hold your breath for three counts as you trace the second side of the triangle.
Breathe out for three counts as you trace the final side of the triangle. You have just completed one deep breath.
Start at the bottom right of the square
Breathe in for four counts as you trace the first side of the square
Hold your breath for four counts as you trace the second side of the square
Breathe out for four counts as you trace the third side of the square
Hold your breath for four counts as you trace the final side of the square
You just completed one deep breath!
Start at any “Breathe In” side on the star.
Trace your finger over the "breathe in" side of the point
Hold your breath when your finger gets to the tip of the point
Breathe out as you trace your finger over the other side of the point.
Keep going until you reach where you started.
When you trace the whole star, you will have completed 5 deep breaths
LAZY 8 Breathing
Start with the eight on its side and start in the middle
Go up to the left and trace the left part of the 8 with your finger while you breathe in.
When you get to the middle of the eight again, breathe out while you trace the right part of the 8 with your finger.
6 Sided Breathing
Start at the left hand side of the hexagon.
Trace your finger over the "breathe in" side as you take a deep breath in.
Hold your breath as you trace the second side of the hexagon.
Breathe out as you trace the third side of the hexagon.
Then repeat for the bottom part of the hexagon.
BREATHING USING YOUR IMAGINATION
Breathe in like a flower, breathe out like you are blowing out birthday candles.
Breathe in blue sky, Breathe out gray skies.
Pretend your belly is like a balloon. Breathe in and make the balloon bigger, then breathe out and make the balloon shrink.
Smell the soup, cool the soup or smell the hot cocoa, cool the hot cocoa
Darth Vader Breathing - Pretend you have a straw in your mouth, suck in through the straw and breathe in. Breathe out like Darth Vader.
Ocean Breathing - breathe in and imagine the wave rolling in, breathe out and imagine the wave rolling out.
Color breathing - Breathe in and imagine a calm, happy, positive color. Breathe out and imagine a color that represents stress, anxiety, etc. leaving your body.
Soft Belly - Say to yourself “soft” as you breathe in and “belly” as you breathe out.
Sitting criss-cross applesauce, sit up tall and take a deep breathe in, Hold it while you count to 5 with your fingers then tilt head up to blow it out of blowhole. You can also put your hands up on top of head to create the blow hole to “blow” out.
Breathe in, pause briefly, then breathe out slowly while you make a hissing sound for as long as you can.
You can do this breathing either while sitting, or add movement to it.
Sitting version - make “bunny” hands in front of chest and take quick sniffs like a bunny.
Movement version - start in a squat and hop forward while taking quick bunny sniffs.
Breathe in and pretend you are smelling a flower. As you breathe out, make humming bee sound. Try different ways of making the sound - longer or shorter, high or low sounds.
DEEP BREATHING WITH NUMBERS
5 - 5 - 10 breathing
Breathe in for 5, hold for 5 and breathe out for 10.
4-7-8 Breathing From Go Zen
Breathe in for 7, exhale for 11.
Count to 10
Breathe in ONE
DEEP BREATHING WITH YOUR BODY
Using Your Hand to Take a Deep Breath aka Mountain Breathing
Put up one hand, palm facing out and fingers spread apart. Place the index finger of your other hand at the base of your thumb and breathe in while you move your finger up one side of your thumb. Move your finger down the other side of your thumb and breathe out. Do the same thing with the remaining four fingers, and take deep breaths in and out as you move your finger. After you’ve reached the second side of your pinky finger, you’ll have done 5 complete deep breaths.
You can also do this with a close friend or trusted adult. Have them spread their hand out and use your finger to trace their hand and do deep breaths. Or do the opposite: spread your hand out and have them use their finger and trace yours. You can do deep breaths together!
Hands to Shoulders
Sometimes you breathe from your chest instead of your belly, but it’s hard to notice. This is an easy way to figure out if you are moving your chest or your belly when you’re breathing. While sitting or standing, put your hands down by your sides. Then bend your arms at your elbows and place them on the front of your shoulders. Try taking a deep breath. If your shoulders are moving a lot, focus more on taking breaths using your belly.
Arms start at the side of your body; arms go up as you breathe in and go down as you breathe out (arms make a rainbow)
Pretend your hands and arms are like lava flowing from a volcano. Start with your hands in front of your heart, with palms touching. Keeping your hands together, reach straight up and breathe in. Separate your hands and move your arms down to your side and breathe out.
Start in a standing position. Breathe in as you crouch down. Then, jump up, spreading your arms and legs as you breathe out.
Nostril Breathing/Cowabunga Breathing
Block one nostril, breathe in for 5, block the other nostril, breathe out for 5.
Wood Chopper Breathing
Standing tall with legs hip distance apart. Clasp hands together and raise your arms above your head. Breathe in through nose. Exhale and pull your hands down toward your legs as you say “HA” to “chop” wood
OTHER HELPFUL LINKS
COPING SKILLS FOR KIDS