Now consider how you breathe when you are angry, upset, anxious, stressed. When people are anxious, angry, or stressed breathing usually becomes faster and is shallow. This type of “chest breathing” can signal a fight or flight response which tells your body that you are in danger. Thinking is not as clear. Behavior is more reactive. It is hard to connect, to learn, to enjoy. This is true for adults and children.
Learning how to deliberately breathe slow and deep into the diaphragm can counter these feelings and send a message to your brain to calm down and relax. This is calm breathing. It is a research supported “go-to” strategy to calm down. It can be done anytime and anywhere, but it does take practice to use effectively.
Two important components of calming breathing: breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth and make sure to exhale longer than inhale.
Try it. Breathe in slowly through your nose. Put one hand on your stomach and feel it rise with the inhale. Place another hand on your chest. Exhale longer through your mouth. The hand on your chest should not move as much as the hand on your stomach while you breathe. Repeat.
Below are different breathing techniques to learn and practice. Do these yourself and with your child.
Techniques to teach belly breathing:
- Belly Breathing with a Stuffed Animal: Lie down with your child on floor/bed/couch. Place a stuffed animal on your stomach. Tell your child that the goal is to fill your belly with air and watch the stuffed animal rise when you breathe in (through nose) and drop when you exhale (through your mouth). Demonstrate. Have your child do this with you. Watch the animal rise on inhale and lower on exhale.
- Pizza Breathing: Pretend that you are smelling a delicious hot piece of pizza. Slowly take a big breath in through your nose to smell the pizza. Then even slower, blow out through your mouth to cool down the pizza slice.
- Balloon Breathing: Have your child put one hand on his/her chest and one on belly. Tell your child to imagine blowing up a balloon in his/her belly. Now, ask your child to breathe in through the nose to inflate the balloon. Feel his or her stomach move out. Have child breathe out through the mouth and say “haaa”. Exhale should be longer than inhale. (See https://gozen.com/belly-breathing-to-calm-your-anxious-child/).
- Blowing bubbles, pinwheels, and shape breathing (square and triangle) are also activities that can help show and practice belly breathing. See (https://copingskillsforkids.com/deepbreathing-exercises-for-kids and https://www.pbs.org/parents/crafts-andexperiments/practice-mindfulness-with-belly-breathing).
Slow down. Breathe less, but deeper. When you make your breathing slower, deeper, and more steady- your body will relax. It is hard to be angry, anxious, or stressed when you are relaxed. And this, increasing calm, certainly is an excellent goal for us all right now