Learning how to breathe mindfully has incredible physical and psychological benefits: Bringing more oxygen to the brain, helping the heart pace to slow, even calming the nervous system and brain. Here are three fun, anxiety-reducing breathing exercises to practice with your child:
#1: 4-7-8 “Whoosh” Breaths
In our first exercise, pick somewhere calm to sit down with your child. Instruct your child to close their eyes and let every part of their body become calm and still–from their faces to the tips of their fingers and toes.
Now, instruct them to:
1. Breathe in through their noses for 4 seconds and hold!
2. Hold, hold, hold for 7 seconds.
3. Finally, let it go for a full 8 seconds and make a whoosh sound with your mouth!
Your children will love counting through the breaths and making the whoosh sound. Eventually, they’ll learn to love the relaxing feeling that this practice brings, too. It can prevent them from hyper-ventilating, and even help them to go to sleep at night.
#2: Spiderman Breathing Exercises
The “Spiderman” breath was created by author and emotional intelligence expert Daniel Rechtschaffen. The basic idea is to teach children how to hold and release tension through breath. Here’s how it works:
1. Breathe in and bring your arms into your chest.
2. Now breathe out and let your arms shoot out like Spiderman shooting out his webs!
Of course, you can adapt this kind of breath to different animals and characters. Rechtschaffen also recommends making a “dolphin breath,” bringing arms over your head to breathe in and releasing downwards to breathe out. Be creative!
#3: “Tummy Breathing”
This last practice will help your child–and you–learn how to breathe with less effort and strain by breathing from your diaphragm rather than your chest.
Here’s how it’s done:
1. Lie down on a carpet or rug next to your child, and place one hand over your heart and one hand under your ribs (You can help your child with hand placement if they are very young).
2. Now, begin to breathe slowly, noticing the movement of your body under your hands.
3. Ask your child, Can you make your tummy move more than your chest? As your child tries to make this natural movement, they will be compelled to take deep, calming breaths from the diaphragm.
Mindful breathing exercises can help your children (and you) to develop effective strategies for reducing feelings of anxiety, stress, and anger. It can help create moments of calm throughout the day–key for gaining greater self-awareness, and ultimately, emotional intelligence.