Today I will write about deep breathing, breathing exercises for kids, why breathing techniques work and finally why the Lazy 8 Breathing technique that I recommend has worked for us. It is an important topic for us because we have been looking for some time for effective calming techniques for anxiety and anger that work well with kids.
Deep Breathing Benefits
Deep breathing has multiple benefits such as:
- helping to reduce anxiety and stress
- helping to reduce pain sensation
- improving concentration
However, is it that easy to start a breathing exercise in the middle of a meltdown? Convincing an anxious or angry kid to start deep breathing isn´t that simple.
I´ve personally found it mission impossible in the past. Scenes of my 10 y.o. come to my mind. He would barely manage to arrive at the third inspiration before accelerating the process so that he can continue with his emotional outburst.
Breathing Exercises for Kids: Lazy 8 Breathing Exercise
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The good news is that we have finally found a calming technique for anxiety and anger that works exceptionally well for us. The Lazy 8 Breathing is one of the best breathing exercises for kids (at least, for us!). It is part of The Zones of Regulation activities, a curriculum designed by Leah Kuypers to foster self-regulation and emotional control in kids.
(Note: I´ve shared the Lazy 8 Breathing visual on my blog after consulting Social Thinking Inc. IP Guidelines. They state that posting material on a blog is permitted as long as the goal is to share a short example/testimonial of how helpful it has been to us or others)
This breathing technique is very simple and consists of tracing the 8 shape with your finger taking a deep breath in as you go through the first half and breathing out as you cross to the second half.
This is also one of the exercises that I proposed in my “17 Anger Management Activities for Kids” post. (Check that post to download the 17 Anger Management Activities booklet, with pictograms supporting each activity so that kids can also use the booklet themselves)
Why do breathing techniques work?
Anger or anxiety are emotions that result in excessive physiological arousal. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to use physiological deactivation techniques such as breathing exercises. In psychological practice, training in deep breathing is often used either as a standalone technique to control excessive physiological arousal or as part of a relaxation package.
Some examples of exercises that help children learn deep breathing are: make soap bubbles, breath in pretending to smell a flower and breath out as if they blew a candle or slowly inflate a balloon.
Why does the Lazy 8 Breathing technique work for us?
There are two reasons why the Lazy 8 Breathing exercise works so well for us:
-it removes the focus from the anger or anxiety outburst, moving the attention towards a totally different activity
-this new activity requires concentration and precision. Tracing the shape requires visual-motor coordination (the ability to coordinate vision with the movements of the body or parts of the body), the kid needs to coordinate his vision with the movement of his hand/finger tracing the shape.
If your child has issues with hand-eye coordination or fine motor skills, this type of exercise will require a certain effort. But I think this is partly why it works so well for us. It requires him to completely redirect his attention and efforts into the Lazy 8 Breathing exercise.
Lazy 8 Breathing: Other benefits
It is a technique that you can perform easily and discreetly anywhere. At home, we have a laminated A4 sheet, but you can carry a reduced version in your wallet and use it when you are away from home. And if your kid is a bit older than mine (and less troublesome!) he can probably carry it in his pocket.
Other Breathing Exercises for Kids supported by shapes
There are other options quite similar to the technique I´ve just shared. You can teach deep breathing to children using other types of shapes (triangles, stars, squares). They are variations of the exercise that I have mentioned, and I think they would work well for the same reasons.
More Deep Breathing Resources
There are plenty of other deep breathing exercises for kids that you can try at home. Coping Skills for Kids has a very good section on deep breathing exercises for kids where you can find deep breathing exercises that use:
Books on Self-Regulation and Emotional Control
1) If you want to read more about self-regulation and emotional control, I recommend The Zones of Regulation by Leah Kuypers. The Zones of Regulation is a curriculum geared toward helping students gain skills in consciously regulating their actions, which in turn leads to increased control and problem-solving abilities.
2) And let me share with you a great book about coping skills I recently discovered:
The Coping Skills for Kids Workbook can help teach children to calm down, balance their energy and emotions, and process challenging feelings. Author Janine Halloran, LMHC, shares over 75 innovative, fun and engaging activities developed from her experience in schools, outpatient mental health clinics and as a mother.
This book has amazing reviews (not often you find books in Amazon with only 4 and 5-star customer reviews). Most importantly, some of those reviews have been written by therapist or counselors. Worth considering.
Last but not least, a VERY USEFUL TIP: remember that you always need to practice these techniques when your child is calm and happy. He will be much more likely to apply it in the middle of a crisis if he has already automated he activity.
Try it out and let me know what you think. Do you have other techniques that work for you?
Other Calm Down Resources for Kids
- DIY Sensory Bottles: “Ocean Magic” (an easy hand wash recipe)
Preparing a DIY Sensory Bottle can be not only a fun “arts & crafts” family activity but also a great calming down tool. Try this really easy recipe!
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