We all experience anxiety, including our children. That means it is important to teach our children methods of coping with anxiety and regulating their emotions with simple techniques that can be used at home, school, or just about anywhere, to reduce the effects of stress and anxiety disorders in later life.
One method of reducing anxiety in children and teenagers is deep breathing.
This article will explore how deep breathing helps reduce anxiety, and offer some deep breathing techniques you can try with your children with little to no equipment in only a few minutes. You can use these with your children to ease worries, calm anxiety, pause and reset, or even to help them sleep.
Why is deep breathing important for anxiety?
When we face a stressful situation, our body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode.
Here, the heart rate increases, breathing rate increases, and our brain prepares for danger.
What a stressful situation is will vary depending on the child, but the important thing is returning the body back to a resting, normal state.
Deep breathing is a way to get oxygen back to the blood, and to the brain, easing the body out of fight, flight or freeze mode, and back to normal.
When a child is taking shallow breaths, they are not taking in enough oxygen, and therefore keeping the body in that stressed state.
Deep breathing is very important for keeping the brain and body in rest mode, by restoring the brain's oxygen, and reducing the physical and emotional effects of anxiety.
Here are three ways to introduce deep breathing techniques to your children:
Breathing with shapes is a great visual, straightforward method to introduce children to deep breathing.
Draw a triangle, make one with your hands, or find a triangle object.
The child can trace along the first left side with their finger slowly, while inhaling deeply for 3 seconds.
As they come down the second side, hold for 3 seconds.
Along the bottom, breathe out for another 3 seconds.
Repeat this several times.
Credit to: www.copingskillsforkids.com
Stuffed animal breathing
Having a visual reference to show how deep to breathe can be really helpful for children.
One way to do this is with a stuffed animal, or another small comforter.
Get your child to lay flat on their back, with a teddy bear or other object on their tummy.
Ask them to inhale deeply to make the toy move up for 3 seconds, then exhale deeply for 4 seconds to make the toy move downwards.
This method is very important for teaching children to breathe with the deepest part of their stomach, rather than their chest- which can cause hyperventilation.
Credit to: www.mindfulmazing.com
1. Ask your child to imagine their favourite flower, or pick a flower (or a few!) from outside if possible.
2. Ask them to breathe in through their nose as deeply as possible, getting the biggest whiff of the flower they can.
3. Then hold the smell for 3 seconds.
4. Exhale through their mouth for 4 seconds.
5. Repeat for 5 minutes.
You can pick a bunch of flowers to keep them interested, or ask them to imagine their favourite foods, places or smells if this is more easily imagined.
Credit to: www.mindfulmazing.com
These methods are great for introducing the idea of deep breathing to your children, equipping them with the foundations to manage their own stress and anxiety responses. There are plenty more methods available online, and you can even use your imagination, but encouraging deep, stomach breathing is really the key.
Being able to cope with stress is a key life skill for young people to have, and deep breathing is an accessible, easy way to achieve this for children from early ages.