Benefits of Belly Breathing for Kids
Did you know that changing the way you breathe can change the way you feel?
Stop what you are doing right now. That’s right….STOP!
Now inhale through your nose, filling up your lungs with air and pausing at the top. Then, exhale slowly until your lungs are completely empty.
What did you notice?
Taking a slow and intentional breath (or several) is the fastest way to activate the body’s relaxation response. It gives your body a chance to calm and reset.
Have you ever watched a sleeping baby breathe? When my kids were little, I loved watching their small bodies sleep soundly in their crib, their bellies rising and falling rhythmically with each breath cycle.
Babies intuitively breathe this way. Their bellies fill up with each inhalation and fall with each exhalation. But during childhood, we begin to lose this healthy belly breath and pick up new habits due to environmental and societal factors.
Most of us develop a habit of fast, shallow breaths that increase tension and reduce fresh oxygen flow throughout the body.
When we reconnect with natural deep breathing patterns, our nervous system can finally relax. For kids, this can mean reducing stress and emotional turmoil.
So, how do we reconnect with our breath?
Introduce mindful belly breathing into your daily routine.
Using your breath is the most powerful technique to relieve stress, center your mind, and calm the body. It’s almost too simple, which is probably why it’s often overlooked.
Kids often get stuck in a cycle of repetitive thoughts and worries. Mindful deep breathing helps kids bring their attention to their breath instead of thoughts or fears that can provoke anxiety. Conscious breathing can help them learn new ways to cope with stress and fuel their bodies with fresh oxygen to optimize physical and mental health.
Belly Breathing to Calm the Parasympathetic System
When our bodies are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system or “fight or flight” response kicks in, activating heightened alertness, an increased heart rate, and rapid breathing to prepare for battle.
According to this article, “If your body tends to default to fight-or-flight mode, deep breathing can give you instant relief. By breathing deeply from your diaphragm, you ignite the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. This system reverses the stress response by slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and calming the mind. With deep breaths, you can activate the body’s relaxation response, a profound calm state.”
So basically, kids can use their breath as a fantastic tool to regulate their minds and bodies. How empowering is that?
Benefits of Deep Breathing for Kids
Once you activate the parasympathetic system, a cascade of benefits follows. This can have a significant impact on how kids feel. Specifically, deep breathing:
• calms the nervous system
• reduces stress
• strengthens the respiratory and immune systems
• improves digestion
• supports mind-body connection
• brings fresh oxygen to the brain
• encourages mindfulness and accepting the present moment
• promotes healthy sleep patterns
How Stress Impacts Our Children
It is becoming increasingly clear that kids and teens are not immune to society’s demands and stress-provoking experiences. Many parents reach out to me, sharing stories of increased stress, worries, and anxiety-driven behaviors in their children.
Statistics back this up!
According to a 2011-2012 study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, more than 1 in 20 children ages 6 to 17 suffer from anxiety or depression. Both conditions are created or exacerbated by stress.
Our kids (and us adults too!) need help navigating their nervous system in this overstimulated, fast-paced, competitive society.
The answer is simple but not necessarily secure. We need to model and guide our children to tap into their inner world to discover individual coping strategies.
Awareness is the first step to effective self-care and self-soothing practices.
When we intentionally carve time out time each day to practice belly breathing with our kids, we build a keystone habit that will eventually become an automatic response. This sets your child up for success against stress in the future!
Why Practice Belly Breathing with Kids
Think of belly breathing as strength training for your diaphragm. Sometimes I tell my students that we will “strengthen our breathing muscles” so that our body will know what to do when we feel stressed or when big feelings take over.
Being mindful of your breath and practicing deep breathing can both calm and energize you. It can both soothe our nerves and clear our minds.
When we lengthen our exhalations, we activate the calming parasympathetic system. When we expand our inhalations, we increase the oxygen level in our blood, energizing the mind-body. With deep, even breaths in and out, we’ll produce a balanced state.
How to Teach Belly Breathing to Kids
METHOD #1 – Inhale through the nose and exhale out of the mouth
How to do it:
• Sit or stand up nice and tall.
• Place one hand over your belly and one hand over your heart.
• Close your lips (if comfortable)
• Inhale through your nose (like smelling a fragrant flower)
• Exhale out of your mouth (as if blowing out birthday candles).
• Inhale deeply through your nose to fill up your belly for 4…3…2…1.
• Exhale through your mouth narrowing your belly for 4…3…2…1.
• Repeat this same pattern three more times and notice how you feel. Can you think of a time in your day that this might be helpful?
METHOD #2 – BE Buddy™ Belly Breathing
How to do it:
• Lie down comfortably on your back and place your BE Buddy™ on your belly.
• Notice how your head feels against the floor.
• Feel your shoulders, arms, hands, back, legs and feet.
• Feel the weight of the BE Buddy™ on your belly.
• We are going to expand the belly up high on an inhale and narrow the belly back down on the exhale.
• Now, inhale and expand the belly for 4, 3, 2, 1. Watch the BE Buddy™ ride up high to the sky!
• Exhale and narrow the belly back down for 4, 3, 2, 1. Watch the BE Buddy™ go back down toward the ground.
• Keep breathing, expanding your belly like a balloon on an inhale, and back down, exhaling all of the air out.
• Repeat this slowly 3 more times.
Ask children to reflect on how this exercise made them feel. Use questions like:
• Did you feel your BE Buddy™ move up and down?
• Did you feel the air go in and out of your lungs?
• How did your mind & body feel after taking slow belly breaths?
• When would be a good time to practice this breathing exercise?
Kids will notice these benefits after doing deep breathing exercises:
• Enhanced breath awareness
• Relief from anxiety and excess energy
• A calm nervous system
• Improved self-regulation and focus skills
Deep Breathing Tools to Help Kids
For many kids, just saying “take a deep breath” is not enough. To help them focus, have a prompt or focal point ready to guide them through each inhale and exhale.
When I teach kids, yoga classes, I carry several teaching tools to capture their attention and interest. Some of the tools I like to use to teach abdominal breathing to include:
• The Hoberman Sphere or “breathing ball” as I often call it. Here is a short Yoga Calm® video demonstrating it in use. Kids love to open and close the sphere in unison with their breath. It gives them a focal point to anchor their attention and slow their breathing.
• Stuffed animals (or a BE Buddy™) to help kids feel supported.
*Check out this video on Breathing Buddies from Daniel Goleman
• When in doubt, get the bubbles out!
Belly Breathing Tips and Reminders
Here are a few quick tips to help kids catch onto deep breathing exercises:
• Always begin by observing the breath with no intent to change it.
• Teach kids while they are in a relaxed state, like after reading a story.
• Slow the breath cycle, pausing at the end of each inhale and exhale.
• Be sure that the child is in a position where the lungs and diaphragm have space to move.
• Encourage children to breathe through the nose (if comfortable).
• Integrate belly breathing into the daily routine (kids will catch on quickly after a few consistent sessions).
Do a Daily Practice
Belly breathing can be practiced anywhere and anytime – at home, at school, in the car, at the park, or waiting for an appointment.
A simple idea is to add a deep breathing session to the bedtime routine to build a daily self-soothing practice that calms the mind and body.
Teaching children the power of the breath empowers them to tap into their inner world to cope with adversity and stress in their daily lives. If practiced often, the intentional practice will eventually become automatic, equipping them with one more tool in their toolbelt to combat stress and anxiety.
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Thanks for reading,
PS: If you are looking for more resources to help your child build resiliency skills and habits, download the FREE Resiliency Guide for kids today! This printable 32-page guide is a great resource to help your child develop wellness from the inside out!