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.
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) - Watch the video on YouTube!
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.
OTHER DIY ACTIVITIES
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.
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.
5 - 5 - 10 breathing
Breathe in for 5, hold for 5 and breathe out for 10.
Breathe in for 7, exhale for 11.
Count to 10
Breathe in ONE
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) - Watch the video on Youtube!
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
Have your child place one hand on their belly and one hand on their chest. Let them take a deep breath in for four counts and then exhale slowly (through their nose) for four counts. Remind them to pay attention to the rise and fall of their chest and belly as they complete the exercise.How is deep breathing a coping skill? ›
Deep breathing is one of the most basic, yet effective coping skills. By taking control of your breath you are allowing your body to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and promote calm. There are many different types of breathing exercises and you can choose whichever one works best for you or your child.How does deep breathing help children? ›
Deep breathing techniques activate the parasympathetic nervous system (part of the nervous system that controls reactions to stress), as well as redirect the mind to a simple task, distracting from anxious thoughts.How to do star breathing coping skills for kids? ›
Start at any “Breathe In” side on the star. Breathe out as you trace your finger over the other side of the point. Keep going until you reach where you started.
Diaphragmatic breathing, also called breathing retraining or deep breathing, is a basic cognitive coping strategy for managing anxiety.Does deep breathing help thinking? ›
Deep breathing gets more oxygen to the thinking brain. Also, by addressing the physical, fight, flight and freeze symptoms directly, you are freeing up mental energy to address other symptoms. Before you practice the deep breathing, take a moment to check in on your anxiety level.What are 5 benefits of deep breathing? ›
- Decreases stress, increases calm. ...
- Relieves pain. ...
- Stimulates the lymphatic system (Detoxifies the body). ...
- Improves immunity. ...
- Increases energy. ...
- Lowers blood pressure. ...
- Improves digestion. ...
- Helps support correct posture.
And this is something that can easily be done in any setting and is child friendly! In fact, breathwork can be immensely beneficial as a self-soothing tool for children, as it is an action that they can control with their own bodies, encouraging them to become more attuned to themselves.Can deep breathing help anxiety? ›
Deep breathing can help lessen stress and anxiety. By breathing slower and more deeply from your stomach, you signal your nervous system to calm down.What is the coping strategies scale for children? ›
Children are asked what they would do if something bad happens. Six different coping strategies are assessed: problem solving, seeking social support, externalizing, internalizing, distraction, and trivializing. The responses are scored on a 3-point scale: 1 = never; 2 = sometimes; 3 = always.
- Start with a long, deep breath. As you slowly draw air in through your nostrils, focus on how it feels. ...
- Take another long, deep breath in the same manner as the first. ...
- Take a third long, deep breath in the same fashion as the first two breaths.
- Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose, expanding your lower rib cage, and letting your abdomen (belly) move forward.
- Hold for a count of 3 to 5.
- Breathe out slowly and completely through pursed lips. Don't force your breath out.
- Rest and repeat this 10 times every hour.
- Get comfortable. You can lie on your back in bed or on the floor with a pillow under your head and knees. ...
- Breathe in through your nose. Let your belly fill with air.
- Breathe out through your nose.
- Place one hand on your belly. ...
- As you breathe in, feel your belly rise. ...
- Take three more full, deep breaths.
There are five main types of coping skills: problem-focused strategies, emotion-focused strategies, meaning making, social support, and religious coping.What are the big 4 coping strategies? ›
“Big 4” — a set of evidenced-based, cognitive behavioural therapy-based techniques that help individuals cope with stress and improve their mental health and resiliency. The Big 4 are positive self-talk, visualization, tactical breathing, and SMART goal setting.What are 5 coping skills for anxiety? ›
- Keep physically active. ...
- Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. ...
- Quit smoking, and cut back or quit drinking caffeinated beverages. ...
- Use stress management and relaxation techniques. ...
- Make sleep a priority. ...
- Eat healthy foods. ...
- Learn about your disorder.
So to put it in perspective, integrating deep breathing and calming breath exercises into your daily routine can help sooth stress, improve your mood, and boost your confidence.What is the breathing technique for anxiety? ›
The 4-7-8 breathing technique involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. People may find it helps manage anxiety. This breathing pattern aims to reduce anxiety or help people get to sleep.What are the disadvantages of deep breathing? ›
When you take a deep breath … You will activate your chest and neck muscles, trigger the sympathetic system, strain your neck muscles, accelerate your heart, and activate a state of increased arousal. The vagal brake is switched off and you can compromise both muscle and brain function as CO2 falls.What is the 4 7 8 breathing technique? ›
If you can, close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose to the count of four. Hold the breath to the count of seven. Exhale through your mouth to the count of eight.
Similarly to those with breathing issues, anyone with severe heart issues – including cardiac arrhythmia, slow heart rate, high blood pressure, angina or chest pain, a recent heart attack, heart disease, or any other heart condition – should be cautious before beginning a breathwork practice.How deep breathing helps with mental stress? ›
Summary. Shallow, upper chest breathing is part of the typical stress response. The stress response can be reduced by consciously breathing using the diaphragm. Abdominal breathing helps to control the nervous system and encourages the body to relax, bringing about a range of health benefits.What is the 4 4 4 breathing technique? ›
Be conscious of how the air fills your lungs and stomach. Hold your breath for a count of four. Exhale for another count of four. Hold your breath again for a count of four.What are the 4 types of breathing? ›
Types of breathing in humans include eupnea, hyperpnea, diaphragmatic, and costal breathing; each requires slightly different processes.What are the three 3 basic coping strategies? ›
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. ...
- Take care of yourself. ...
- Take care of your body. ...
- Make time to unwind. ...
- Talk to others. ...
- Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol.
Coping skills are things that we can do in-the-moment, when we are feeling lousy, to help us turn down the volume of our emotions and avoid getting overwhelmed. They help us to get through stressful situations with a little more ease, and without doing something we'd regret later on.What are the 3 broad coping strategies? ›
Researchers have proposed three distinct types of coping styles: problem-focused coping, emotion-focused coping and avoidance coping [27, 29, 30].What are the 4 R's of mindfulness? ›
One helpful way to practice Self-Awareness Self-Care is to nurture a regular habit of checking in with yourself around The Four R's of Resilience: Rest, Relaxation, Replenishment, and Release. These categories speak to four foundational pillars of personal wellness relating to sleep, stress relief, diet, and exercise.What are the three C's of mindfulness? ›
These are curiosity, courage & care. These three qualities make the quality of our mindfulness more dynamic and pro-active.What is triangle breathing? ›
As the name suggests, triangle breathing involves breathing with a triangle in mind. You breathe in for 3 seconds, hold the breath for three seconds, and breathe out for 3 seconds.
Box breathing, also referred to as square breathing, is a deep breathing technique that can help you slow down your breathing. It works by distracting your mind as you count to four, calming your nervous system, and decreasing stress in your body.What is fast breathing in kids? ›
If Your Child Is Breathing Fast. If you have a baby or toddler, call 911 if: They're less than 1 year old and takes more than 60 breaths a minute. They're 1 to 5 years old and takes more than 40 breaths per minute.What is the star technique for kids? ›
The four core calming activities used in Conscious Discipline are S.T.A.R., Balloon, Pretzel and Drain. S.T.A.R. stands for Smile, Take a deep breath And Relax. Taking three deep belly breaths helps to shut off the fight, flight, or freeze response in the body.What is the best breathing technique for beginners? ›
Close your lips and use your nose to inhale slowly from your belly, and count to 4 as you breathe in, filling the lungs. Hold the air in your lungs while you silently count from 1 to 4, and then slowly release the air through your mouth as you count from 1 to 4. Repeat three to seven times.Why does deep breathing calm you down? ›
It summons your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as your rest-and-digest system, and helps stimulate relaxation to return everything to equilibrium. You take in more oxygen, your heart rate slows, and your mind starts to slow down.What are the three steps to deep breathing? ›
Begin to inhale and exhale deeply through the nose. On each inhale, fill the belly up with your breath. Expand the belly with air like a balloon. On each exhale, expel all the air out from the belly through your nose.What exercises help with breathing? ›
- Walking – start with a few minutes each week and build up slowly.
- Stretching – keep your muscles supple.
- Weight training – use small hand-held dumbbells.
This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax.Why is deep breathing important? ›
Deep breaths are more efficient: they allow your body to fully exchange incoming oxygen with outgoing carbon dioxide. They have also been shown to slow the heartbeat, lower or stabilize blood pressure and lower stress.What is deep breathing technique in psychology? ›
Evidence suggests that deep breathing inhibits sympathetic activity and increases parasympathetic responses, which translates to experiencing less distressing and more positive emotions (Jerath et al., 2015). Furthermore, the cardiovascular system synchronizes with the respiratory system during deep breathing.
When you become stressed or anxious, your brain releases cortisol, the “stress hormone.” By taking deep breaths, your heart rate slows, more oxygen enters our blood stream and ultimately communicates with the brain to relax. Deep breathing also ups your endorphins, the “feel good” chemical.How do you practice deep breathing for anxiety? ›
- Let your breath flow as deep down into your belly as is comfortable, without forcing it.
- Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Breathe in gently and regularly. ...
- Then let it flow out gently, counting from 1 to 5 again, if you find this helpful.
Deep breathing can help cool your emotions when your anger overheats. Taking a deep breath takes your focus off whatever's angering you, which can help you “de-escalate,” says Mitch Abrams, Psy. D., a clinical psychologist who helps big-time athletes work through anger issues.Can deep breathing help with depression? ›
Deep breathing has been proven to help with wellbeing tremendously. From slowing the ageing process to boosting your immune system, people often underestimate the benefits that breathing can bring. According to a study by Dr. Chris Streeter, it is even said to help anxiety and depression.Does deep breathing give you more energy? ›
As you breathe deeply, you increase your energy levels and allow fresh oxygen and nutrients to be distributed to your cells. This helps the brain and organs function at an optimal level. Strengthens the immune system. Deep breathing from the abdominal region helps prevent infection in the lungs and other tissues.What exercises are good for stress and anxiety? ›
Almost any form of exercise or movement can increase your fitness level while decreasing your stress. The most important thing is to pick an activity that you enjoy. Examples include walking, stair climbing, jogging, dancing, bicycling, yoga, tai chi, gardening, weightlifting and swimming.How breathing affects feelings? ›
Activity in amygdala suggests that quick breathing rate may trigger feelings like anxiety, anger or fear. Other studies have shown that we tend to be more attuned to fear when we're breathing quickly. Conversely, it may be possible to reduce fear and anxiety by slowing down our breath.Does breathing make you happy? ›
Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which guides the body from stress to relaxation.