My son was playing in the sandpit at playcentre, busily digging a big hole. We’d been away on a two week campervan trip the week before and he was adjusting to getting back into his usual routine, as I sat and watched him pour water into the hole he’d just dug, I could see the tell tale signs that he was tired and in the very next moment he threw his spade to the sand and shouted, “I’m fed up of this”, he was dealing with some big feelings and the tears came quickly.
At this point I approached him and I offered him a hug and we found a spot by the swing and I helped him to check in with how he was feeling. After a few deep breaths myself I invited him to blow out some birthday candles and what followed to my delight and his were some smiles.
When we learn to use our breath, we are learning a life skill, we are learning that we have the ability to calm our bodies and our minds and to notice what is going on inside us, whether its noticing emotions or physical sensations. We are learning a tool that can give us the space, to quote Frozen, “just do the next right thing”.
I remember having a chat with my dental hygienist about my little boy learning to brush his teeth, she turned around and said to me, “at this age don’t focus on the technique, its all about creating a habit”. So I thought, how do we create a good tooth brushing habit? We use glittery pink, bubblegum flavoured Peppa Pig tooth paste, we have brightly coloured animal themed tooth brushes (we even for a very short time had a musical toothbrush that played Old Macdonald’s Farm) and we practice morning and evening. In other words we do in regularly and we make it fun!
The same idea applies to teaching children to use their breath as tool to help them calm down and manage big feelings. It needs to be fun, engaging and be practiced regularly when they are feeling safe and relaxed. Here are three simple breathing activities to try out and have fun with.
3 Simple Breathing Exercises to Calm Children’s Big Feelings
1) Birthday Breaths
The first breathing exercise I’m going to share is Birthday Cake Breaths, this is the first exercise that I tried with my son and its a firm fave. The reason I love it so much is even from a really young age we associate birthday cakes with using our breath to blow out the candles, but even more than that its a fun, bright and magical time.
I love to ask my boy, “How old are you? “, this is as a good distraction and then when he answers me, I’ll pop my fingers up and say “Shall we blow out four birthday candles then?” On his first breath, I’ll wobble my fingers a little and say, “not quite, lets try a big, slow, long breath and see if you can get them this time”. He’s usually quite pleased when he manages to blow them out and likes to try again and then we celebrate a job well done.
A fun way to role play birthday cake breaths is to make play dough cakes and pretend its a birthday party. Try out my Birthday Cake Breaths exercise for free and use the poster as a visual reminder to take a magical, birthday cake breath whenever you like.
2) Pinwheel Breaths
Using Pinwheels as a prop is a great way for children to see the results of taking a deep breath. Encourage children to try using all sorts of different breaths, long and strong, small and fast or soft and slow. Did they realise they they could use their breath in all these different ways?
This is also a fun visual way for kids to notice how their breath can change with their emotions, maybe take a sigh or relief that they have managed to escape from a castle as they use the pin wheel as a swash buckling sword or perhaps they notice a relaxed breaths as they wonder through a field of sunflowers, imagining that their pin wheel is the biggest sunflower in the field.
3) Bubble Breaths
Bubble breaths are very simple to try, you can buy a bubble set very cheaply or even make your own. Make sure you get outside and try this activity, blowing bubbles is a beautiful way to teach deep breaths and being outdoors makes it even more relaxing. Talk about taking a deep breath in through the nose before blowing out the mouth to blow the bubbles.
Make blowing bubbles a mindful activity too and ask children to notice the colours and shapes of the bubbles, can they follow the bubbles with their eyes until they see them pop. Blowing bubbles is such a simple, fun activity and it brings such joy to children and adults alike.
Deep breathing is a powerful tool for calming the mind and body, keep practicing in fun ways and find a technique that works for your child, its then much more likely to become automatic during more difficult times or it may be enough to calm the intensity of the emotion as they learn to use the breath as a time to pause.
What are some of the ways your children remember to stop and take a deep breath? Let us know which of these techniques work for you!