Teach Your Kids Deep Breathing Exercises

Kids and Deep Breathing: Why and How It's Done

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We all experience stress, and children are no different. (In fact, by some measures, kids are even more stressed than adults, and that often puts us both at stress levels that are unhealthy.) We may focus heavily on helping our kids with homework, getting them into after-school and extracurricular activities that will stimulate their physical and emotional growth, and filling their bodies with healthy food, but sometimes we overlook the importance of teaching them valuable stress management techniques and coping skills.

Focusing on stress management is important at any age, but there are definite benefits to starting when your children are young. When they need to learn to self-soothe and are experiencing strong emotions that they can't always understand or explain, stress management strategies that work on a physical level can be helpful for them and for you as a parent. When they are older kids or teenagers, it becomes even more important for them to learn healthy strategies for coping with stress, so they don't develop unhealthy responses. Focusing early on stress management can help them "launch" in a healthy direction, and maintain habits that can serve them over the course of their entire life. Conversely, if they don't learn healthy ways of managing stress when they're younger, they may develop lifelong unhealthy habits that may be far more difficult to erase; when healthy stress management techniques are part of someone's early experiences, there's less un-learning that needs to occur later.

Whether you're looking to stave off tantrums or help your family with general stress relief, this simple deep breathing exercise can help you and your child relax quickly and easily.

Introduce Deep Breathing

Sit down with your children and explain that you're going to learn a new type of breathing: deep breathing.

Ask them to take a few slow, deep breaths and let their tummy push out as their lungs fill with air, and naturally go in as the air leaves their lungs. (This is called "diaphragmic breathing" and is more calming than "shallow breathing" that moves your shoulders up and down.)

Direct Their Timing

Once their breathing is slowed and diaphragmic, tell them that you're going to breathe in for a longer time--for the count of six. (You can either count for them while they breathe, or you can breathe with them while counting with your fingers.) Some younger children may find a count of six too difficult; you can start with a count of three and gradually stretch it out.

Focus On The Exhale

After you've practiced this a few times, introduce the last step: slowing your breath as you exhale. Kids tend to want to let the air "explode" out after a big inhale; practice exhaling to a count of six or even eight with them. This can be useful for teaching emotional regulation as well, as children learn mastery over their body and mind.

Practice Regularly

Just practice this a few times each day, and deep breathing will be another tool you and your children can use when any of you is stressed. This is a great way of developing a lifelong habit of healthy stress management.

Additional Tips

  1. As with many other stress management techniques, this one gets even better with practice. The more you practice your deep breathing, the more automatic it becomes, even in the face of stress.
  2. Keep practice sessions short and fun. You can start with just one or two minutes of practice per day and work your way up to longer sessions.
  3. The best time to start is when your child is feeling relatively calm. If you try deep breathing for the first time in the throes of a tantrum, for example, you may not see success.
  4. Try these other strategies you can practice with your children for a more robust stress management repertoire.