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Why Do We Need to Make Breathing Fun?

Breathing is one of the easiest and most accessible things we can teach kids to help them process Big Feelings and move towards feeling calm.  When we are upset or losing our cool, our brain stops working and we lose the ability to problem solve.  One of the reasons we want to work on tools for these situations is so kids (and parents) can navigate their feelings in order to problem solve.

Although breathing can be such a great tool for calming down, it’s also something a lot of parents say they have a really hard time practicing and using with their kids.  In fact, some say when they ask their kids to ‘take a deep breath’ it makes the situation worse.

Here’s what is happening:

We know breathing is great for calming down so instinctively we ask kids to ‘take a deep breath’ when they are upset. Unfortunately if this is the only time we say this, it makes a connection between breathing and unwanted behaviour.  It’s like a little flag goes up in your child’s brain that says: “don’t tell me what to do!”  So even though it’s a great strategy, it’s also the one that might be making the situation worse.

So what do we need to do so that breathing can work?

MAKE IT FUN!  Give it a name, practice it in different ways and at different times. 

There’s a few things happening when you take this approach:

  1. You’re intentionally building a skill for emotional regulation
  2. You’re showing how breathing is an important part of our daily lives (not only when we’re upset)
  3. You’re setting up a cue (distraction) to help flip that brain from “fight/flight” to “problem solve”

Here’s How You Do It:

First, talk about how breathing can be a great tool for: (this is not an exhaustive list)

  • Helping us calm down
  • Clearing our mind
  • Taking a break
  • Creating a positive habit
  • Strengthening our core

Second, talk about how tools are skills that need practice!

  • We are going to work on doing some belly breathing every night in bed before I say Goodnight.
  • We are going to practice doing some butterfly breathing every morning when you wake up.
  • We are going to do some fun breathing every day to get in the habit!

Third, make breathing fun by creating your own.

  • Set up the guidelines for their creations, but don’t get to hung up on technique.  The goal is to bring in breathing in a fun and engaging way.  It’s not about perfect, it’s about starting a new habit and building a skill you can use when things are not calm.

Guidelines:

  1. Deep breath in through your nose
  2. Fill your belly with air*
  3. Breathe out through your nose

*Sometimes when kids learn to practice taking in deep breaths they suck their stomachs in.  To help them with this, get them to put their hands on their bellies and take deep breaths through their nose.  Ask them to focus on just their tummies.  Filling it up like a balloon.  I find this works best when they are lying on the floor so they can really focus on their tummy.

If you need ideas on how to make breathing fun, check out my videos on Instagram