Deep breathing goes by lots of names: abdominal breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing as it may be known to some younger children. It is a common technique recommended by most psychologists to help people reduce their levels of stress and to improve relaxation.
What is it?
Deep breathing is one of the best ways to reduce stress in your body. It is the opposite of “chest breathing” which is more shallow breathing.
Why is it so helpful?
Many people, especially when stressed or anxious, tend to take shallow breaths rather than deep breaths. Taking shallow breaths does not allow full oxygen exchange into the bloodstream. It can also make you feel tightness in your chest, shortness of breath, and dizziness – which may lead to more anxiety.
Deep breathing, on the other hand, allows for full oxygen exchange. Deep breathing releases endorphins in the body, slows your heart rate, reduces blood pressure, reduces stress, decreases tension in your muscles, and can help relieve aches and pains.
Okay, so how do I do it?
- Find a comfortable spot to sit or to lie down. For children, lying down seems to be preferred.
- Place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest.
- Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose. If you are taking belly breaths, your hand on your stomach should rise. Your hand on your chest should move very slightly, if at all.
- Hold the breath for a few seconds.
- Slowly exhale out through the mouth. Your belly should be being pulled in while exhaling.
- While exhaling, try to relax and release any tension in your muscles.
- Repeat for several minutes.
The goal is to have around six to ten breaths in a minute when completing deep breathing correctly.
Using a stuffed animal
For some children, the idea of practicing breathing is not very exciting. It may be helpful to have a special stuffed animal that they can hold whenever they are practicing deep breathing.
Then, rather than using their hand, they can place the stuffed animal on their stomach. Your child can watch the stuffed animal rising up on the stomach, if doing deep breathing correctly.
Playing with bubbles
One way to help children learn with deep breathing is through the use of bubbles. When blowing bubbles, children need to learn how to exhale slowly out of their mouth.
Using a bubble wand, show your child what happens if you exhale quickly – most of the time, a bubble never forms or it pops quickly. Then, demonstrate how bigger, better bubbles can form when you breathe into the wand slowly. Remember, model first and then let your child practice!
Blowing a pinwheel
Using a toy pinwheel, you can show your child that the slower that they exhale, the longer the pinwheel can spin. Children love to watch the colors spin around!
Using an expanding toy
Some children have difficulties understanding when to exhale, when to hold their breath, and when to inhale. Having a visual toy demonstrating the steps can be helpful. The expanding sphere is a great toy for this.
While your child inhales – expand the sphere slowly. Then while your child is exhaling, slowly contract the sphere back to its original form.
You can also use balloons to provide a visual as well. Inflate the balloon while your child is inhaling and deflate the balloon while your child is exhaling.
When should my child use deep breathing?
Deep breathing should definitely be used any time your child is feeling anxious, stressed, or upset in order to help your child relax! But, using abdominal breathing over chest breathing is always recommended.