By: Jessica Drake-Simmons M.S. CCC-SLP
The popularity of using breathing exercises with children is on the rise. And, with good reason, because they work! When we focus on breathing fully and deeply, we move out of our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and into our parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation and receptivity). Breathing exercises are effective for the frustrated 4-year-old, the anxious teenager, the overwhelmed parent and the stressed out teacher. There are an abundance of fascinating studies that have found that our body posture, facial expression and breathing, send messages to our brains about how we are feeling. Therefore, we can take control of our feelings by doing something different with our bodies.
Research has found that something as simple as mindful breathing can have the following benefits:
- Increase our focus
- Promote instant feelings of calmness
- Regulate our mood
- Increase our confidence
- Increase our joy
Some families find it helpful to have mindful breathing integrated into their regular routines. For example, every time they are sitting in the car or at every trip to the bathroom they will participate in a simple breathing exercise. Taking a few minutes at the beginning of an activity can also be an effective way to get a child in a calm, ready to learn state or to reduce stress in anxiety provoking situations. Breathing exercises can also be an effective way of curbing a looming behavioral meltdown.
When teaching a child a breathing exercise, choose a time when the child is ready to learn. If a child is in an anxious or frustrated state, he will have difficulty processing the directions. Make the learning fun and multi-modal.
Use a real object, picture or imaginative visualization to teach a breathing exercise. I may show my little friend a stuffed bunny and ask: “Do you know how bunnies breathe!? A bunny takes 3 quick sniffs through its nose and then blows one deep breath through its nose. I wonder if you could breathe like a bunny?” or “Imagine you had a balloon! What color would your balloon be? Let’s take a biiiiiiiig breath through our nose and blow the air out of our mouth into our balloon. Wow, you made your balloon sooo big with those 3 big breaths!”
Here are my favorite, kid friendly, breathing exercises.
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