Does your child have a hard time calming down? Belly Breathing can help
Does your child have a hard time calming down when she gets angry? Does you child get really worked up when he’s scared? Does your child seem unable to cope with big emotions? Perhaps one of the simplest and most effective calming strategies would help your child gain more control over his emotions. It is something that we all do every day, but the key to this strategy is HOW you do it. It’s called belly breathing. The key to belly breathing is a slow breath in during which the abdomen expands to allow the lungs room to fill and the diaphragm to flatten. A slow, deep exhale letting all of the air out of the lungs causes the abdomen to drop. Does this type of breathing sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve done it yourself in yoga or choir.
Oftentimes counting can help children while pacticing belly breathing. Straining is not helpful so start by breathing in to the count of 3 and out to the count of 4. The key is to keep counting slow and even.
Another trick is to practice lying on the ground or a bed with a stuffed animal on your child’s stomach. Think about giving that polar bear or dolphin a ride up as your child breathes in and then a ride back down when your child breathes out.
Please note that most children’s instinct is to do the opposite of this. They suck their tummies in when inhaling and push them out on the exhale. This is NOT belly breathing. Because it is not instinctual, it is important to help guide your child how to do this correctly. If they are doing it incorrectly, some words of encouragement or joking about how belly breathing is different and tricky can help them feel OK about having a tough time. Then reorienting them to make sure their belly goes out when they breathe in will help them get on track. You may need to correct several times, by saying something like “You are getting it. Make sure your belly goes up (if lying down or “out” if vertical) when you breathe in.” Once they are back on track you can say “That’s right, now you’ve got it. Keep going like that.” Some children will complain it is hard and feels funny. That’s OK. Start small. Do a few breaths, take a break, do a few more.
Daily practice helps children to be able to incorporate this practice when they are upset. Regular practice while calm helps to make belly breathing more automatic for children. A great time to practice is right before bed as this type of breathing is intended to be relaxing.
Check out this awesome Sesame Street video about belly breathing:
And come back and visit the Kids Korner soon for more tips, strategies, and recommendations for parents!
Daniela Owen (PSY 23748) received her PH.D. in Clinical Psychology from Stony Brook University. Dr. Owen treats attention/concentration problems, oppositional behavior, social skills deficits, anxiety disorders (phobias, panic, social anxiety, obsessions and compulsions), mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder), adjustment to life transitions (including parent divorce), stress management, enuresis, and eating disorders in children and adolescents. She treats anxiety, mood disorders, attention and concentration problems, and social skills deficits in adults. She also specializes in couples’ communication, satisfaction within relationships, and effective parenting strategies. To schedule an appointment, call 510.652.4455 ext. 4. To learn more about Dr. Owen, visit her profile here.