Teaching Our Kids How to Breathe
When we are experiencing stress or big emotions, our body is in fight or flight mode. It’s hard (if not impossible!) for us to access our ability to think logically and clearly. And we experience physical sensations that are linked to anxiety, stress, or emotion– things like a pounding heart, sweaty hands, stomachaches, headaches, and more– all of which come from our body’s natural response to threats: getting us ready to run away or to fight back.
How can we make ourselves feel physically better at times of stress? How can we allow ourselves to think more clearly and act more effectively?
This is true for us as parents. And it’s also true for our kids.
If we can teach our kids to tap into their breath as a tool at times they are feeling anxious, angry, stressed, or upset, we are giving them a gift that allows them to feel better AND to act better.
So how can we teach our kids how to access their breath at these moments?
We have to start by having these conversations– and practicing these skills– at times that our kids aren’t already upset. By experimenting with different breathing strategies and getting curious with our kids about which strategies resonate or impact our individual kids the most… because different things work for different people! Then we can prompt our kids to try those tools at times they are upset (maybe in combination with an incentive into place for being willing to give it even a half-hearted shot and/or by doing it WITH them… because let’s face it, nobody wants to be told to “Try your tools!” at times that they are upset!). And we can model skills ourselves (e.g., saying, “I notice I’m feeling upset right now, so I’m going to take a few deep breaths here to try to help myself calm down”).
Here are a few resources that might help as you work teach your kids how to put their breath to work for them.
- Daniel Tiger, “When You Feel So Mad That You Want to Roar” (PBS video linked; full episode is Season 1, Episode 4, available free on Amazon Prime)
- “Just Breathe” video by Julie Bayer Salzman and Josh Salzman
- Alphabreaths: The ABCs of Mindful Breathing (book), by Chris Willard
- Practice mindfulness with belly breathing (PBS Kids)
- Heart and belly breathing (audio guide) from Little Flower Yoga
- Mindful breathing for teens
You can also harness your kids’ natural inclination toward technology and screens, and try an app– many major meditation apps have great breathing exercises for kids, including Insight Timer (free!), Calm, Headspace, Stop Breathe & Think, and more.
Give it a shot, and see how it goes!
Plus, consider signing your child up for a program with us that helps build some of these skills! This fall, I will be running breathwork workshops for parents and kids TOGETHER. These workshops focus on teaching why our breath can help us at times we are upset and then testing out different breathing practices that parents and kids can put to work at home. We’re kicking off with a session for 6th to 8th graders and their parents on Thursday, September 5 (4:00-5:30pm)– save your spot now! More sessions for kids of different ages and their parents TBS.
And don’t forget, teaching kids about the power of their breath is ALSO part of what we do in our Mighty Minds program (plus so much more!)! We have only three weeks remaining in our 2019 summer sessions– with limited spots still available.
- July 29 – August 2
- 1:30-3pm, rising 1st to 3rd graders
- August 5 – August 9
- 3:30-5pm, rising 6th to 8th grade girls
- August 12 – August 16
- 1:30-3pm, rising 3rd to 5th grade boys
- 3:30-5pm, rising 4th/5th grade girls
More information about the Mighty Minds program and summer sign-ups can be found here; if your child has participated in the past and you are interested in enrolling in our NEW one-session alumni program, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
P.S., if you are looking for more support around coping with your OWN stress, anxiety, or frustration related to parenting, we also provide individual parent coaching and support, both in person and via phone or telehealth! Email us at clinic@practicesanfrancisco.