7 Breathing Exercises That Will Help Your Child Deal With Big Emotions

by Tania DaSilva

When you teach your child "calm breathing," you are using a technique that works to slow down his or her breathing, which combats upset, stressed and anxious feelings. Teaching a child to use calm breathing to regulate his or her emotions is important. It shows the child how to change his or her breathing to minimize the negative affects of emotions.

Your child can learn to change short, shallow breaths that can cause hyperventilation to deep, long breaths that help create a feeling of internal calmness. Short, shallow breaths tend to make feelings of anxiety and anger worse, hence calm breathing can give your child a sense of control and relief. After learning these methods and techniques, your child can eventually regulate his or her breathing and ease anxiety and anger on his or her own. Calm breathing also minimizes the intensity of “big emotions."

As a parent, you can help your child learn this method of coping by explaining and teaching calm breathing techniques. Firstly, explain that the short, quick breaths he or she takes when anxious and upset actually makes those feelings worse.

Explaining the benefits of practicing these techniques (and that they can be done typically without anyone noticing) is a great way to get your child on board. Secondly, teach your child calm breathing techniques to regulate his or her breathing. Simply put, your child can take a slow deep breath through the nose (counts of five), hold the breath for three seconds and then exhale slowly through mouth (counts of five).

Wait five seconds before the next breath, and repeat it at least 10 times. Remember to practice this daily with your child while he or she is calm. If your child learns to do it comfortably in a calm state, he or she will become more comfortable using these techniques when emotionally distressed. Here are seven types of calming techniques you can try with your child (using count system explained above):

1. Bubble Blowing

A super easy and fun way to teach your child how to breathe calmly is the “bubble blowing” technique. You can do this technique outside using a soap bubble container and wand. The container can be purchased at any dollar store or toy store. This is a great way to get your child to start practicing calm breathing in a non-threatening way.

Have your child wait a few seconds before each bubble, and eventually work your way to having him or her practice bubble breathes without the wand. Make sure you explain to your child that the bubble breaths are a way to practice calm breathing and the benefits of this technique on anxiety, anger or emotional management. Remind your child this technique can be done at school or anywhere else without the bubble container to regulate breathing and calm down.

2. Belly Breath

Belly breathing controls breaths from the diaphragm. Have your child pretend that he or she is blowing up a balloon, done by inflating the belly while inhaling. When exhaling, pretend you are emptying the balloon of air, while your tummy deflates. Remember only the belly should be moving.

3. The Elevator Breath

Elevator breathing is extremely simple and great for younger children. Ask your child to raise his or her arms above the head and say, “Elevator up,” while breathing in. Then say, “Elevator down,” while breathing out and slowly bringing his or her arms back down.

4. Square Breath

When showing your child this technique for the first time, use your fingers to draw a visual. Start at any corner you feel comfortable with, and draw a square in the air. Get your child to practice this with you, inhaling for one line, exhaling for the next and repeating this order until the square is made.

You can create a box with tape or crayons. Use it as a visual as well. Label inhale and exhale along the lines and walking your child through the steps.

5. Heart Breath

Heart breath requires you to put your hands on your heart and be mindful of the beating. You can have children make the shape of a heart with their hands, or just rest their hands on their chest, feeling the beating while noticing the breathing.

Breathe in and out using the count system and notice the change in heart rate and regulation in your body. You can make a visual of a heart to remind your child to take heart breaths and practice self-awareness.

6. Flower And Candle Breath

Ask your child to imagine smelling a beautiful flower. Tell him or her to breathe in through the nose and pretend to take in the smell of his or her favorite flower. Have your child visualize holding that flower in a closed fist.

Then, ask your child to pretend he or she is blowing out a birthday candle. This technique helps children recenter their attention through imagery and regulates their breathing.

7. The Peacock Breath

Give the child a feather to hold on to, and ask him or her to inhale deeply using the counts explained above. Then exhale and watch how much your child can make the feather move with his or her breath. This also forces your child to focus on the feather and pay less attention to his or her "big emotions."

Once your child learns some or all of these calming breathing techniques, you should see a difference in his or her emotional management, leading to quicker decrease and regulation of strong emotions. Remember to practice these daily with your child when he or she is calm. Encourage your child to use them when he or she is in an emotional state.

Remind your child that these techniques are beneficial to learn and can be helpful when he or she wants to calm down. Remind the child many of these can be done without drawing attention to him- or herself and in secret. Lastly, calm breathing is not only a regulation technique, but it's also a relaxation technique that helps create an overall positive sense of well-being and self-control.