Deep Breathing Exercises for Kids Can Calm Anger and Anxiety
Deep breathing exercises are one of the easiest and most effective calming strategies for kids. Teaching children to use deep breathing to tackle their anger or anxiety can help calm them down enough so that they are able to control their behaviors.
Whether your kids are feeling angry at their sibling or at a situation that they think is unfair, feeling stress and/or struggling with school, or dealing with nighttime anxieties, breathing is a universal calm down tool that really helps.
Why Deep Breathing Exercises Are Important for Kids
One of the main problems with big emotions like anger and fear is that your brain floods your body with chemicals that can really upset your normal behavior. (This article has a great description of the physiology of anger)
One of the big reactions that happens when you are angry is that your blood flow increases to your limbs (in preparation for taking action.) This means that you have less blood flowing to your brain which can really shut down some of the higher functioning/reasoning capabilities.
Deep Breathing Exercises are an excellent way to reset the body and the blood flow to get your brain back online.
The frustrating thing is though, that so often when things start to feel stressful, frustrating, hard, or overwhelming, our first response is to either hold our breath or take short, shallow breaths. Limiting our breath actually compounds the problem of blood flow to the brain making it even harder to think straight and make good, rationale decisions.
In those high emotion moments, getting more oxygen to the brain can truly help our children (and us) make it through frustration, fear, and even anger without falling into out-of-control behaviors.
How to Teach Children Deep Breathing Techniques
There are many fun and effective ways to teach and practice deep breathing with kids. I have this article that goes into more detail about strategies and ways to teach deep breathing to kids.
Here are some of my favorite ways to incorporate deep breathing into your daily life:
- Make it Part of Your Bedtime Routine (this has the added benefit of helping kids fall asleep!)
- Use Calm Down Cards
- Create a Calm Down Kit for Your House (Check out this article on how to create your own calm down kit)
- Incorporate Practice Into Existing Routines (like at mealtimes or when you brush your teeth)
Breathing Exercises that Work Well for Kids
Here are 5 different deep breathing techniques that I use with my own kids whenever they are feeling sad, scared, anxious, worried, angry or even bored. We try to make it a nightly practice so that it is second nature to them to turn towards deep breathing when they start feeling out of sorts.
To teach Infinity Breathing, draw an infinity sign – an 8 laying down on its side. Or use the infinity breathing visual above. With your finger, trace the infinity sign. As you trace up, breathe in and as you trace down, breathe out. Emphasize doing the infinity breathing technique as slowly as possible. Repeat 10 times or until calm.
The Belly Breathing Technique works best when kids are laying down on their backs. Have your child place their hands on their belly and breathe in all the way so that your hands are lifted up. I even like to add in a visual like, “pretend that you are making your belly into a big giant balloon.” After breathing in, slowly release your breath. Repeat 10 times or until calm.
Mountain Breathing can either be done by drawing some big “mountains” (like a giant M) or just by pretending that you have mountains.
To start, instruct your child to pretend that their pointer finger and middle finger are the legs of a mountain climber. Walk fingers up the mountain while slowly breathing in, then walk them down while slowly breathing out. Make sure you “climb” at least 10 mountains to calm your body down.
Mountain Breathing is one of the Calm Down Skills available in the Calm Down Card Deck. It makes a great visual for kids to have the card right in front of them as a reminder!
5-7 Count Breathing
5-7 Count Breathing is a popular coping skill style of deep breathing. This deep breathing technique is great because it is easy to remember and requires no extra tools or visuals. Instruct your kids to slowly count up to 5 while breathing in. Then, slowly exhale while counting down to 7. Repeat 10 times or until calm.
This style of deep breathing is one of my son’s favorites. It often has him laughing by the third or fourth breath which is an added calm down benefit!
To do dragon breathing, slowly breathe in imagining that you are inhaling courage or calmness. Then, exhale loudly, like a dragon breathing out fire. Imagine that all of your anger or worry is leaving and being burned up by the dragon’s fire on each breath out. Repeat 10 times or until calm.
I have a set of 4 Deep Breathing Posters that Include Dragon Breathing hanging in my son’s room. They make a great reminder for him to practice and use his breathing exercises anytime he is feeling upset or scared.
Using Calm Down Cards to Teach Deep Breathing
The Calm Down Card Deck includes deep breathing exercises with kid-friendly instructions and more. You can check out the full deck at the link above. Or, download a free print-at-home mini-deck in the parenting resource library by signing up below.