Your child looks up at you with big panicked eyes. Your heart wants to jump into action to stop 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. Which do you want your child to grow up to be?
The world is a big stressful place and as adults we can teach our kids a very basic tool to deal with that stress. An easy breathing exercise is a way to help children learn how to regulate their emotions to take on those stresses. Many adults don’t even know this easy tool that could help them calm down.
Being able to regulate emotions will not only ease your child’s panic in the moment, but it will also help them succeed later. Studies have found the ability to regulate emotions in kindergarten is indicative of success in school and their career. These calm kiddos grew into adults who had other markers 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 How to Calm Kids
When the body is under stress it goes into fight-or-flight mode. 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 from stress. 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 a stressed body needs. 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 medication.
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 keep everyone calm.
Don’t wait to try out this calming technique. It’s best to practice this when your child is relaxed, or right when you sense things are about to escalate. That way it’s easier for your child to utilize this tool when they need it. If you miss the opportunity when your child is calm, don’t be afraid to try it if your child is already in a panic. It’s better than fueling the panic, but it might take a little more patience to teach a child who is upset.
Here’s How It’s Done:
- Get down on your child’s level so you can look them in the eyes. You can also 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 each of you can feel your belly moving in and out.
- Relax your shoulders and neck together. If you can’t get your child to relax their shoulders, take a few breaths in and out rolling your shoulders together. Until your child is able to relax their shoulders down.
- Now you are going to take a breath slowly to the count of 4. Breathe loud so your child can hear you. Ask your child if they can see and feel their chest then belly expand. Pause for 2 seconds.
- Breathe out to the count of 4 slowly and loud so your child can hear. To make it easier to focus have your child blow on a scarf or feather. You can also have them breath into a straw.
- Do this breath nine times and by the ninth time your child should be calm.
- Practice daily. We like to practice in nature too.
Belly Breathe for All Ages
Children 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! Children learn from adults how to heal and care for themselves.
Practice regularly so your child can use this tool when they are stressed. Then they will have the tools they need even when you aren’t around. Belly breathe those thoughts and stresses away!