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.
Deep breathing has multiple benefits such as helping to reduce anxiety, stress and pain sensation and improve concentration just to name a few of the best known. However, is it that easy to convince a kid in an anxious or angry moment to start a breathing exercise? I´ve personally found it mission impossible in the past. Scenes of my 10 y.o. come to my mind, only managing to arrive at the third inspiration before he starts shouting “four inspires, five inspires …” as he accelerates to speed the process so that he can continue with his emotional outburst.
Breathing exercises for children: Lazy 8 Breathing technique
The good news is that we have finally found a breathing exercise for children that works exceptionally well for us. The Lazy 8 Breathing is part of The Zones of Regulation designed by Leah Kuypers to help self-regulation and emotional control.
(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)
The 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 one of the exercises that I proposed in my “17 Anger Management Activities for Kids” post.
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 has the Lazy 8 Breathing technique worked for us?
I think the main reasons are the following:
-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.
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 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). Here is a link to Coping Skills for Kids website where you can find these resources. They are variations of the exercise that I have mentioned, and I think they would work well for the same reasons.
Last but not least, 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?