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.
If you have a child who struggles with anxiety, fear, or anger issues then you may have been wondering how to use deep breathing to help your child calm down.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this article
How does Deep Breathing Help Kids
How to Teach a Child Breathing Techniques
The Best Breathing Techniques for Kids
Additional Parenting Tools for Deep Breathing
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What is Deep Breathing
According to WebMD, “deep breathing is an easy way to relax and let your worries go.” Breathing deeply helps reset your body anytime you feel stress, anxiety, or other big emotions.
When you have big emotions you start to take short, fast breaths. Breathing like this can really drain your energy and deprive your brain of the blood it needs to function properly.
Slowing your breath down through deep breathing techniques allows your body to reset, conserve energy, and redirect the blood flow to the right places to allow your mind and body to function at its highest level. This process is critical when faced with big stressful emotions!
How Does Deep Breathing Help
Deep breathing helps children (and adults) reset their minds and bodies in the midst of big emotions. Big emotions like fear and anger can often triggering the fight, flight, or freeze response. When children experience this type of response to their emotions, they are often confused and overwhelmed when it comes to trying to control their behaviors.
Breathing techniques for child anxiety
Children who struggle with fear, anxious thoughts, and generalized anxiety tend to get sucked into flight or freeze. Using deep breathing techniques can help their bodies relax enough so that their brains are able to understand and process the emotion and/or situation in a more appropriate manner.
For example, if a child is struggling with nighttime fear issues:
>> They may start to get scared once the lights go out.
>> Feeling scared may make them start to take quicker and shallower breaths.
>> Their brain, being deprived of oxygen, sends out the flight or freeze signal
>> Finally, the child winds up either running out of their bedroom in fear or feeling stuck in an overwhelming sense of anxiety.
If that child uses deep breathing prior to turning out the lights and then continues to practice the breathing techniques as they start to feel scared, their brain winds up having more processing power to communicate more logical responses such as realizing that they are safe and the monster is just in their imagination.
Breathing techniques for anger
Similarly, anger can trigger the fight, flight, or freeze response in kids. Whether their oxygen intake decreases because they start to hyperventilate or because they are yelling and/or throwing a tantrum in a way that decreases their normal breathing patterns, their brain can essentially go “offline” when they experience anger.
Using deep breathing can help calm a child’s mind and body. This is often very helpful with anger because in addition to resetting the oxygen levels and functioning power of the brain, it can also calm the body and allow a child to gain control of their reactions and behaviors.
Relaxation exercises for kids
While there are many great relaxation techniques for kids, deep breathing is often the foundation that you will want to use to build from. Not only is deep breathing exceptionally helpful for kids minds and bodies, it is also easy to teach to kids and easy for kids to practice and use.
How do you teach a child to breathe
Here are 7 different ways to teach and practice deep breathing so that you really cement this coping skill in for your child. The more that you practice, the more likely they are to use the skill when they start to get upset, angry, or scared!
Teach the concept in a calm moment
When kids are worked up in anger, fear, or other big emotions, their brains have effectively shut down. In order to teach children how to use deep breathing, the concept needs to be taught when they are calm and functioning normally.
Model deep breathing during big emotions
Modeling deep breathing can be a very effective way to demonstrate how and when to use deep breathing. If you are experiencing big emotions, talk through it out loud and incorporate breathing.
For example, you could say, “I am feeling really frustrated right now and like I want to give up. I’m going to take a minute to take some deep breaths and calm down so that I can keep going on this task.”
It is also good to model deep breathing when you are engaged with a child who is in the middle of behaviors driven by big emotions. If you are watching your child throw a tantrum, make sure that you are taking slow, calm breaths.
Use Visual Reminders
Visual reminders can be a great way to teach and remind kids about deep breathing. I love hanging posters of deep breathing techniques up in my kids’ bedrooms and playroom. (They are also great for classroom use!) Check out my set of Deep Breathing Printable Posters here.
Being able to utilize deep breathing when you are experiencing big emotions takes practice! Make sure to tell your kids this so that they don’t feel bad if this new skill doesn’t come naturally in the middle of emotional behaviors. Encourage your child to practice deep breathing at different times of the day.
Make it fun
Kids learn best through play. Because of this, finding ways to make deep breathing fun is important. It helps them feel engaged and interested. Find unique and interesting ways to teach deep breathing.
Make deep breathing part of a routine
One of the best ways I have found to help kids really grasp and use deep breathing is to make it part of their routine. Every night at bedtime, we spend one minute doing a deep breathing exercise.
It would also work to incorporate breathing into the time that you are putting on your shoes, brushing your teeth, or at meals. Find a time that feels simple, natural and doable for you and your family and normalize the concept of deep breathing through making it routine.
Fun Breathing Games
Another fun way to remind your child to practice the deep breathing exercises that you teach them is to use fun breathing games with your family, or in academic and mental health settings.
Group breathing games
|Partner Breathing||Have the children sit in chairs facing a partner. Ask them to inhale deeply through their nose imagining that they are sucking an imaginary ball towards them, then have them blow out through their mouths pretending that they are pushing the imaginary ball towards their partner.|
|Beach Ball Breathing||Have children stand with enough room between them that they don’t touch anyone with their arms extended. Tell the children to imagine that they have a giant beach ball in their arms. Have them breathe in while raising their arms and the imaginary ball above their heads, then as they exhale have them bend over to bring the ball down to the ground.|
|Straw Breathing||Give each child a blank sheet of paper, a straw, and a few drops of liquid watercolor or tempera paint. Have the children breathe in through their nose and then breathe out through the straw blowing the paint around the paper. You can also choose to use a visual of the child blowing out their anger, fear, or even a specific thing such as a monster. The picture then becomes a representation of how when they breathe deeply, they can exhale out their worry or anger and leave it outside of them rather than allowing it to explode inside of them.|
What are the Different Types of Breathing Techniques
There are so many great deep breathing exercises for kids. Here are some of my favorites.
Deep Breathing Exercises Using Props
Having a child breathe in slowly and then practice blowing bubbles gently enough to actually make bubbles can be a great way to practice taking deep slow breaths.
This tool is a great resource for teaching deep breathing. Have your child hold the sphere between both hands. As they breathe in, pull the sphere out to expand it and as they breathe in, push the ball closed. Have them imagine that they have a sphere inside of their belly that they are also contracting and expanding at the same time!
A stuffed animal is another great way to teach children how to breathe deeply from their bellies! Have the child lie on their back and place a stuffed animal on their stomach. Instruct them to breathe slow enough that the animal doesn’t fall off but deep enough that the animal rises and falls with each breath.
Deep Breathing Using Shapes
Rainbow breathing can be a great option for bringing in a sense of happiness and calmness to the breathing practice. You can either use a rainbow print out, have the child draw their own rainbow, or have them just pretend to be tracing a rainbow. Have the child trace their finger over the rainbow breathing in as they trace up and over to the right and then breathing out as they trace up and over to the left.
Mountain breathing is a good option for kids who struggle with emotions. You can bring in analogies of making it up the hill, or of life having ups and downs. To practice Mountain Breathing start by drawing some big “mountains” (like a giant M) or by pretending to trace the shape of big mountains. Breathe in as you climb up and breathe out as you climb down.
Pizza or triangle breathing is a great option for encouraging a pause or hold in between the inhale and exhale. Have the child breathe in as they trace up one side of the pizza, hold their breath as they go across the top/crust and then breathe out as they trace down the opposite side of the pizza.
Infinity or Lazy 8 breathing is a fun way to encourage kids to find a flow and sense of calm through their deep breathing exercises. Either use a print out infinity sign (8 on its side) or just have them trace an imaginary one. As their finger traces up, they breathe in and as they trace down, they breathe out.
Deep Breathing Using Your Imagination
Many kids love using their imagination when it comes to deep breathing. This can add a sense of playfulness to the exercise that adds the benefit of increasing happiness and calmness.
Birthday Candle Breathing
Have the child imagine that they are standing or sitting in front of a birthday cake. Have them take a deep breath in through their nose and then blow out the candles through their mouth.
Ask the child to pretend that they are a dragon. As they breathe in they are inhaling courage or calm and as they exhale, their dragon fire breath burns up all of their fear or anger.
Hot Cocoa Breathing
Have the child pretend to be holding a cup of hot chocolate. As they breathe in through their nose, pretend that they are sniffing the warm yummy smell of the hot cocoa and as they exhale, have them pretend to blow to cool off their cup of hot chocolate.
Animal Themed Deep Breathing
Bumble Bee Breathing
For bumble bee breathing, have children breathe in through their nose and then as they breathe out, make a humming sound like a bee. Ask the child to try to buzz as long as possible before taking another deep slow breath in.
Bunny Breathing can be a fun and slightly different style of breathing. You can have the child get down on their hands and knees in a bunny pose or just practice the breathing technique while sitting or standing. To do this technique, take 3 quick sniffs in through your nose and then blow the air out. Here is a great kids video that you can practice this technique with.
Have children bend at the waist with their arms hanging down towards the ground like an elephants trunk. As the child breathes in, raise their arms up as if they are raising their elephant trunks. As they breathe out, have them slowly lower their trunks back down.
Using Numbers for Deep Breathing
5 Count Breathing Using Fingers
This is a super easy, no tools required style of breathing that is easy to learn and remember. Make one hand into a fist. Slowly extend one finger at a time while you count to 5 and breathe in. Pause once your hand is open for a count of 5 and then slowly count back down your fingers until you have a fist again.
4, 7, 8 Breathing
Breathe in for 4 seconds through your nose. Hold your breath for 7 seconds and then exhale through your mouth while counting to 8.
Alternately, I also like using nose breathing with this counting pattern. Hold the right nostril closed and breathe in through your left nostril to the count of four. Plug both nostrils and hold your breath while counting to 7. Then, open your right nostril, leaving your left nostril plugged while breathing out to 8.
Deep Breathing with Your Body
For volcano breathing, have children sit on the floor. Have them place their hands together in a prayer-like pose. As they breathe in, raise their joined hands up over their head imagining that their emotion is the lava boiling up to the surface. Then as they breathe out, explode their hands open and have the lava hands slowly arc out and down letting their emotion flow out of their body.
For belly or balloon breathing, have the child lie on their back. Imagine that they have a balloon in their tummy. As they inhale, expand that balloon as big as it can get by putting as much air as possible deep down in their belly. Then, slowly exhale letting the balloon deflate.
Another technique that can be very soothing is to trace a pattern on your forearm or thigh. I like using a wave or mountain pattern and instruct the child to trace the pattern with their finger onto their arm, breathing in as they trace up and breathing out as they trace down.
Deep Breathing Parenting Tools
If you are looking for additional tools to help you teach children deep breathing exercises, there are some great options available!
Children’s Books About Deep Breathing
This book has 30 simple breathing and movement activities for kids. It helps children learn to manage their bodies, breathing, and emotions.
Alphabreaths The ABC’s of Mindful Breathing
This sweet book has many fun, simple, and whimsical different breathing styles. What a great book to add to a bedtime routine!
This book teaches kids how to breathe away anger and sadness in a fun and interactive way. It also does a great job with being racially diverse which will help all kids connect and engage with the book.
Deep Breathing Printables for Kids
These Deep Breathing Printable Posters can be a great tool to hang in your child’s bedroom or playroom. They can help encourage and remind your child to use deep breathing when they feel angry, scared, sad, or upset.
This Printable Calm Down Kit with Breathing Exercises can also be a great tool for kids to have in the car, in their nightstand, or in their school backpack.
These free printable calming cards are also a great resource for parents to use with their kids. You can download them in the Parenting Resource Library.
Using Deep Breathing Exercises with Kids
In conclusion, there are many great deep breathing techniques for kids. Deep breathing not only helps children learn to calm their minds and bodies, but it enables them to overcome big emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness.