Breathing exercises are a great way to help your kids relax. When your kids are experiencing pain or discomfort, or even big feelings, deep breathing exercises can help them calm down and reduce their anxiety. In this article, I’ll discuss situations where deep breathing can be helpful and different techniques you can try.

Not long ago, one of my kids had a terrible stomach ache. I tried a few different interventions, but nothing seemed to work. I finally decided to help my child do some deep breathing and combine it with guided imagery. After a few minutes, my child started to feel better. Deep breathing can be helpful for kids in several different.

Situations where deep breathing exercises for kids can be helpful

  1. When your child is feeling anxious or fearful: Breathing exercises can help calm your child’s nervous system and reduce feelings of anxiety or fear.
  2. When your child is upset or crying: Deep breathing can help the child regulate their emotions and assist when they’re feeling upset or overwhelmed.
  3. When your child is in pain: Deep breathing can help distract the child from their pain and reduce the intensity of their discomfort.
  4. When your child is feeling frustrated or angry: Taking deep breaths can help the child regulate their emotions and reduce feelings of anger or frustration.
  5. When your child is having trouble falling asleep: Breathing exercises can help your child relax and unwind, making it easier for them to fall asleep.
  6. When your child is feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated: Deep breathing can help your child feel more centered and focused, even in the midst of a chaotic or overwhelming environment.
  7. When a child is feeling homesick or separated from loved ones: Breathing exercises can help the child feel more grounded and connected, even when they’re far away from home or missing someone they love.

Additional benefits of breathing exercises for kids

Attention and Focus: Breathing exercises can help children improve their ability to focus and pay attention in school or during other activities.

Physical Health: Breathing exercises can be beneficial for children with asthma or other respiratory issues, helping them to regulate their breathing and manage symptoms.

Sports Performance: Breathing exercises can be helpful for children who participate in sports or other physical activities by improving their endurance, focus, and overall performance.

Basic breathing exercises for kids

Ask your child to sit or lie down in a comfortable position. If they are sitting, make sure they sit up tall. Explain to your child that you want them to breathe in deeply through their nose, filling their stomach with air like a balloon, and then exhale through their mouth. Have them do this a few times to help them calm down in stressful situations.

Boy holding a teddy bear.

Belly Breathing

Using a stuffed animal can make belly breathing a fun and engaging activity for kids. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Have your child lie down on their back with their favorite stuffed animal on their belly.
  2. Ask your child to place their hands on their belly and take a deep breath in through their nose, feeling their belly rise and their stuffed animal lifting up with it.
  3. Instruct your child to hold their breath for a moment, then slowly exhale through their mouth, feeling their belly and the stuffed animal lowering back down.
  4. Encourage the child to take a few more deep breaths, focusing on the rise and fall of their belly and the stuffed animal.

Tap into your child’s imagination by having them pretend that the stuffed animal is riding the waves of their breath. They could also imagine their belly is an elevator taking the stuffed animal up and down.

Candle breathing technique

  1. Tell your child to imagine that there is a candle in front of them with a flame burning at the top.
  2. Have them take a slow, deep breath through their nose, filling their lungs with air.
  3. Instruct your child to hold their breath for a few seconds, and then slowly exhale through their mouth, as if they are blowing out the candle flame.
  4. As they exhale, tell them to imagine the flame flickering and then going out completely.
  5. Have your child repeat this process for several breaths, taking slow, deep breaths in through your nose and exhaling slowly through your mouth.

Engaging Breathing Tools:Fun breathing games

There are many tools that make deep breathing more exciting for kids. For example, you can use small pinwheels or bubbles to help encourage breath work. When using a pinwheel, have your child take a deep breath and then blow out fast enough to make the wheel rotate. When blowing bubbles, have them try to blow lots of bubbles at the same time or breathe out slowly to make one large bubble. I love these options because they use distraction play and breath work at the same time.

Playing with Sound and Breath

Children love to play with sounds and be noisy. Here are some fun breathing exercises that incorporate sound:

  1. Train Breath: Have your child take a deep breath and exhale while making a “CH” sound like the “choo-choo” of a train.
  2. Snake Breath: Have your child take a deep breath and exhale while making a long “S” sound, like the sound of air released from a tire.
  3. Bumble Bee Breath: Have your child take a deep breath and exhale while making a buzzing sound, which causes a fun vibration.
  4. Robot Breath: Have your child exhale while making a humming sound, which creates a different kind of vibration than the bumble bee breath.
  5. Dragon Breath: Have your child exhale while sticking out their tongue and keeping their eyes wide.
  6. Water Breath: Have your child exhale while making the “SH” sound, similar to the sound a mother makes when calming an infant.

Five finger breathing

Five finger breathing is a great technique for children as it combines breath work and touch. Follow these steps:

  1. Have your child extend their hand like they are going to give you a “high five.”
  2. Trace up their pinky with your index finger as they take a deep breath in.
  3. Trace down thier pinky as they exhale.
  4. Repeat the process with the ring finger, middle finger, index finger, and thumb.
  5. Repeat on the other hand.

This method provides excellent visual cues and can feel like a gentle hand massage. You can also teach your child to do this on their own.

Box breathing for kids

What is box breathing?

The foundations of box breathing originated in India and are part of yoga practice. It is a method of breathing that has been useful in relieving stress. It is also known by other names, such as square breathing, 4 by 4 breathing, and four square breathing. In a nutshell, box breathing is breathing out for four seconds, holding it for four seconds, breathing in for four seconds, and holding it for four seconds. The process is then repeated 3-4 times.

Why should you try box breathing?

When our bodies are in pain, they tense up. This in return can result in more pain, causing an escalating cycle of discomfort. Box breathing can decrease pain by helping the body to relax. Some other benefits include.

  • Decreased anxiety
  • Decreased Stress 
  • Lower Heart Rate and blood pressure
  • Increased Oxygen levels
Girl sitting in a field of sunflowers.

How can I teach my child box breathing?

The first thing you can do is to become familiar with the technique yourself. Once you have a firm grasp on how to do it, take a few minutes to practice on your own. This step can also help you decide if you feel box breathing is something you want to try with your child.

I recommend teaching box breathing to your child before you use it as an intervention. It will make it easier to implement this intervention immediately when needed. It’s also easier to teach a calm child the technique.  

Once you feel ready to teach the technique, it’s important to try it first in a quiet environment. Turn off any extra noises such as TV or music. Later, once your child has the breathing technique mastered, you could consider adding relaxing music, white noise, or nature sounds.

In addition to finding a quiet place, help your child find a comfortable seated or reclined position.    

You can begin by explaining what you are going to do. It could go something like this.

“Box breathing is a way to slow down breathing and help our bodies relax, I’d like you to try it with me.”

Children are often visual learners, so it might be helpful to take a piece of paper and draw a square on it to present the idea. Run your finger along each side of the square as you describe what to do with each breath. You could also pull out a square picture frame and use that instead. Explain the 5 steps below and then go ahead and demonstrate how it is done.

The Five Steps to Box Breathing

Step 1- Breath out and empty your lungs

Step 2- Breath in through your nose slowly filling your lungs. Do this for a count of four.

Step 3- Hold your breath for another count of four

Step 4- Exhale, through the mouth, emptying your lungs of air, do this for a count of four

Step 5- Hold your breath for a count of four

Continue to repeat the process 3-4 times.

Note

A child learning this for the first time may want to try only 1 or two rounds. That’s okay! Simply introducing the idea is a great start. If you don’t want to have to count the breaths, you could use a metronome set to 4/4 time at a very slow rate.

Final Thoughts

When your child is feeling overwhelmed by pain, discomfort, or anxiety, breathing exercises are an effective way to help them to calm down and relax. If you are feeling anxious because you have a sick kid, the exercises can be great for you as well!

  • Busch, V., Magerl, W., Kern, U., Haas, J., Hajak, G., & Eichhammer, P. (2012). The effect of deep and slow breathing on pain perception, autonomic activity, and mood processing–an experimental study. Pain Medicine (Malden, Mass.)13(2), 215–228. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1526-4637.2011.01243.x
  • Russo, M. A., Santarelli, D. M., & O’Rourke, D. (2017). The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human. Breathe13(4), 298–309. https://doi.org/10.1183/20734735.009817

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