When a child starts to throw a temper tantrum or lose control, many parents say just breathe or take a deep breath. It is a great thought, but comments like that are just not going to work! It is during times of relaxation that breathing practices should be taught so they can be implemented during times of stress. Breathing techniques teach children new habits that they can then use when they are upset. These techniques may reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus and concentration, and help with sleep.
Finding the right breathing technique for your child and making it part of their routine leads to the best results. Here are a few simple ones to try:
- Triangle breathing: Close your eyes. Imagine a triangle (for younger kids, I have them keep their eyes open and have them trace a real triangle on a piece of paper with their finger). Start at the bottom left of the triangle. Breathe in for three counts as you trace the first side of the triangle. Then hold your breath for three counts as you trace the second side of the triangle. Breathe out for three counts as you trace the final side of the triangle.
- Rainbow Breathing: Close your eyes. Start with your arms at the side of your body. Arms then go up as you breathe in and down as you breathe out (arms make a rainbow). Repeat three times.
- Nostril Breathing: Close your eyes. Block one nostril, then breathe in for five counts. Then block the other nostril and breathe out for five counts. Repeat three times.
- Flower Breathing: Close your eyes. Visualize a flower. Take a deep breath so you can take a big whiff of the flower’s scent. Hold your breath for three counts. Exhale through your mouth for four counts. Repeat three times.
- Snake Breathing: Close your eyes. Inhale slowly through the nose and breath out through the mouth with a long, slow hissing sound
To get the desired effects, regular practice is necessary. Your child is a keen observer, so modeling one of these techniques when you get frustrated is a great way for your child to learn how to manage feelings. Also, scheduling time as a family to practice these breathing techniques is not only good for your health, but with regular practice, it will help the family feel calmer and less stressed!
Dr. Carly Orenstein is a clinical psychologist who practices cognitive-behavior therapy with children and adolescents through individual, family and group therapy. Her specialties include (but are not limited to): Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders, selective mutism, social skills, stress management, autism spectrum disorders and parenting issues.