What Breathing Exercises for Kids Could Help Your Kid Calm Down & Self-Regulate? Lazy 8 Breathing and Other Deep Breathing Techniques Using Shapes
8 Breathing and Other Breathing Exercises with Shapes: In this post, you will read about the benefits of deep breathing, why breathing techniques work and why the LAZY 8 BREATHING technique that I recommend has worked so well for us.
I will also take you through other breathing exercises for kids using shapes (square breathing, triangle breathing, star breathing) .
You will also be able to download a FREE pdf with 10+ Breathing Exercises for Kids (including Shapes Breathing, Yoga Breathing, and Belly Breathing)
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 easy to start a breathing exercise during a meltdown?
Convincing an anxious or angry kid to start deep breathing isn´t that simple.
I used to find it mission impossible (scenes of my ten-year-old come to my mind!).
He would barely manage to arrive at the third inspiration before accelerating the process so that he could continue with his emotional outburst.
Why do breathing techniques work?
Deep breathing exercises are effective calming techniques for anxiety and anger that work well with kids.
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:
- making soap bubbles
- breathing in while pretending to smell a flower and breathing out as if they blew a candle
- pretending to inflate a balloon slowly.
Breathing Exercises for Kids: Lazy 8 Breathing Exercise
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The good news is that we did find a calming technique for anxiety and anger that worked 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)
How do you practice the Lazy 8 Breathing exercise?
This breathing technique is very simple.
Your child needs to trace the eight shape with their finger and:
- take a deep breath in as they go through the first half, and
- breathing out as they cross to the second half.
This is also one of the exercises I propose in my “46 Anger Management Activities for Kids” post.
(Check that post to download the 30 Anger Management Activities booklet, with pictograms supporting each activity so that kids can also use the booklet themselves)
Why does the Lazy 8 Breathing technique work for us?
Adding to the benefits of deep breathing, there are two reasons why the Lazy 8 Breathing exercise works so well for us:
- It works partly as a distraction strategy:
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.
So, using the Lazy 8 Breathing (or any other shape) creates a more demanding activity than just asking your child to breathe in and out. Part of your child’s resources (energy, attention) are engaged now in the breathing activity.
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 worked so well for us. Our child had motor skills issues, and this breathing exercise required 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.
We have a laminated A4 sheet at home, 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.
Using Shapes to Guide Kids through Breathing Exercises
The Lazy 8 Breathing isn’t the only breathing technique that uses shapes to guide the breathing exercise.
You can teach deep breathing to children (and adults) using different types of shapes:
You can actually use any shape you can think of.
It can be as easy as drawing a triangle on a piece of paper and then tracing the shape with your finger as you breathe in and out.
You can even trace an imaginary shape on the palm of your hand.
Other options include:
- Hand breathing
You can trace the shape of your fingers (breathing in as you trace the shape of your finger up, and breathe out while you go down)
Do it on a piece of paper or trace the fingers on your hand.
- Breathing rainbow
Breathe in and out following the different colors of the rainbow.
Other Fun Breathing Techniques for Kids
Yoga Breathing Techniques
Even if you are unfamiliar with yoga techniques, there are really easy and fun ways to approach yoga breathing exercises.
Teaching breathing techniques using “animal breathing” is a really cool and fun way to around an exercise that could otherwise feel a bit “boring”. One of my recommended resources is the following book:
A charming and very fun story that teaches kids four yoga breathing techniques to help them deal with anger, anxiety, and tension:
- Crocodile breathing (calming down breathing)
- Lion breathing (to make my voice stronger)
- Humming bee breathing (to relieve headache & tension)
- Woodchopper breathing (to get rid of anger)
Check out my post on yoga breathing for kids to learn a few really fun exercises (printable poster included in that post)
Belly Breathing (diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing)
In diaphragmatic breathing, the breathing is done by contracting the diaphragm. The air enters the lungs, the chest does not rise but the belly pushes outwards.
It is really easy to teach when you ask your child to put one hand on their belly and the other one on their chest so that they can track how the former comes out when they breathe in, while the latter does not move.
Learn how to teach kids belly breathing with two fun exercises.
Books about Emotional Self-Regulation
1) Let me share with you a great workbook that we developed ourselves:
A Cool Kid Journal is a comprehensive resource to help kids develop coping skills for anger. It includes educational content, journaling pages, worksheets, and calm-down cards (70!).
It includes a section on deep breathing as a tool to help us deal with anger (it works for any big emotion). The set of 70 calming cards includes 12 breathing cards.
2) 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, leading to increased control and problem-solving abilities.
Last but not least, a VERY USEFUL TIP: remember that you always must practice these techniques when your child is calm and happy. They will be much more likely to apply it in the middle of a crisis if he has already automated this 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 a fun “arts & crafts” family activity and a great calming down tool. Try this really easy recipe!
Breathing Exercises for Kids Using Shapes (Download)