Your child looks up at you with big panicked eyes. Your heart wants to jump into action to take away whatever is causing them pain or frustration. Right now, it’s that little Andy has taken their toy, or a friend made fun of their shirt, but those problems get bigger just as kids do. Stressed kids become stressed adults and calm kids can be calm adults.
The world is a big stressful place and as adults we can teach our kids one of the most basic tools to deal with that stress. An easy breathing exercise is something many adults don’t know and can help children learn how to regulate their emotions to take on those stresses.
Being able to regulate emotions not only will ease their panic in the moment but it will also help them to succeed. Studies have found the ability to regulate emotions in kindergarten is indicative of success in school, career and other indicators of a healthy life like lower risk of substance abuse and mental health problems. (1) Don’t worry if your child is already past kindergarten, this skill can be helpful for all ages and emotional regulation can lead to positive outcomes for anyone.
Stress and Calm Kids
When the body is under stress it goes into fight or flight mode. Your breathing increases, hormones are released, and blood pressure increases as your brain tells your body to get ready to fight or run. It is no wonder your child has a hard time calming down. Taking a deep breath is a natural way to pull the body out of fight or flight mode. A good, deep diaphragmatic breath or what we like to call, “belly breathing” is what you need. You can’t fight, and belly breathe at the same time. It’s just not possible.
Studies have shown diaphragmatic breathing could improve attention, lower cortisol levels and improve mental function. (2) This can be a very effective way to calm anxiety, depression and stress without a pharmacological intervention.
Our thoughts can have a huge impact on our health. They can either support good health or they can stress your body. By teaching tools to manage emotions, we can set our children up for healthy outcomes and self-modulation. It’s easy to say just breathe but that doesn’t always help calm us down. Having strategies can help.
It’s best to practice when your child is not stressed, or when you sense things are about to escalate, so it’s easier for your child to utilize this tool but don’t be afraid to try it if your child is already in a panic. It’s better than fueling the panic.
Here’s How It’s Done:
- Get down on your child’s level and look them in the eyes. Or have them sit on your lap.
- Calmly tell them you are going to practice breathing together and to follow along with you. Let them know it’s easy and you can do it together.
- Sit up straight in a relaxed position and place your hands on your bellies so you can feel your belly moving in and out.
- Together relax your shoulders and your neck. If you can’t get your child to relax their shoulders take a few breaths in and out rolling your shoulders together. Until you can roll and leave them down.
- Now you are going to take a breath slowly to the count of 4. Breathe loud so your child can hear you. Pause for 2 seconds. Ask your child if they can see and feel their belly and chest expand.
- Breath out to the count of 4 slowly again and loud so your child can hear. Some ideas are to blow on a feather, a scarf or through a straw to help with this.
- Do this breath nine times and by the ninth time your child should be calm.
- Practice daily and in nature too.
Belly Breathe for All Ages
Children of as young as three can start practicing belly breathing and it can be helpful for adults too. Don’t be surprised the next time you are in traffic or at your desk and you find yourself belly breathing. Call it being a good role model! Practice regularly so your child can use this tool when they are stressed even when you aren’t around. Children learn from adults how to heal and care for themselves. Belly breathe those thoughts and stresses away!