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Breathing Exercises for Kids: Everything Parents Need to Know

September 21, 2021

Mid-tantrum cortisol surges in the body of children, making them act instinctively rather than out of intention. This is part of our evolutionary biological fight-or flight response, which allows us to confront dangerous situations. What’s the cure? Take a deep breath. It sounds like a useless statement. But it’s not. Research has shown that deep breathing can have real benefits. A powerful tool for any family’s behavior toolbox is breathing exercises for children which must me in your parenting bucket list.

How Deep Breathing exercises Work

Although emotions are often thought of as abstract, they can have tangible and measurable effects on the body. Stress causes adrenaline and cortisol to flood the body. Your heart rate increases, your blood sugar and fat levels rise, and your senses become more sharp. Anxiety causes us to take more deep breaths which in turn increases our body’s carbon dioxide levels. Blood vessels constrict, which reduces blood flow to tissues and organs, and causes blood pressure to drop. The lack of blood flow is what causes panic attacks, which can cause a tingling or numb feeling.

These processes can be reversed by slow, deep breaths. This allows the body to restore its carbon dioxide levels and turns off the fight or flight response. It also helps the body relax. Deep breathing exercises have been shown to reduce anxiety and pain in children, and can even improve test performance.

When to Take a Breathing Exercises:

Dr. Umakanth Katwa is an attending pulmonologist, director of the Sleep Laboratory Boston Children’s Hospital, and a professor at Harvard Medical School. He has had patients practice regular breathing exercises to get off anxiety medication.

Katwa suggests that deep breathing should be practiced regularly and not just in times of distress. Children who are anxious at baseline may easily experience panic attacks. Katwa says that they are already on the edge and suddenly hyperventilate when something happens. “Practice deep breathing every day. Even if you are not anxious, slow breathing is a good practice.

Practicing Deep Breathing Exercise:

Katawa advises patients to shut their mouths for the first time. Breathing through your nose automatically makes it more difficult to slow down, take deeper breaths, and use your diaphragm. To determine if a child is deep breathing, parents can look at their belly. If the child’s chest is moving, it’s likely that they are taking shallow breaths.

Important note: Consult your doctor if you suspect that your child may have asthma or another breathing disorder. Children under five years old are the most likely to be diagnosed with asthma.

10 Breathing Exercises for Kids

It doesn’t need to be something that a child does all day. It can actually help children focus and prepare for the moment when deep breathing will return them to baseline. You don’t have to make breathing practice boring if you bring imagination into it.

Box Breathing: Take four counts of inhalation, hold it for four counts and exhale for 4 counts. Hold for 4 counts. Repeat the process for four times more.

Bumble Bee Breathing: Take a slow inhale and exhale, making a “bzzzzzz” sound as long as possible.

Balloon breathing: Place your hand on your belly and imagine it as a balloon. Imagine your belly balloon expanding as you inhale. Watch your hand and belly rise. Hold your breath for 2 counts. Next, exhale slowly to deflate your belly balloon.

Swimming Breathing: Imagine swimming under and above the water. As you inhale, lift your arms above your head and then exhale.

Rainbow Breathing: Visualize a rainbow in front you. As you inhale, trace your finger from left-to-right. Next, trace your finger right to left.

Lazy Eight Breathing – Trace your finger in the air to form an eight shape as you inhale. Exhale the opposite direction.

Roller Coaster Breathing – Hold one hand out in front of your face so you can see your palm. You can trace each finger with the other hand. Inhale as you move up one finger to its tip and exhale as you move down one finger towards your palm.

Hot Cocoa Breathing: Take a mug of hot chocolate in your hands. Breathe in the chocolate aroma and exhale.

Bunny Breathing: Inhale three times quickly, sniffing like a rabbit, and then exhale for one.

Fish Breathing: Take five deep inhalations through your nose, fill your cheeks with air and then exhale through your mouth.

The Best Breathing Exercise Supports

Products can be as helpful as practice. These products can be used to help children learn deep breathing and make it a part of their behavior toolkit.

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