Parents, have you ever told your child to just “take a deep breath” when they are feeling upset or their emotions feel out of control? While this statement is meant to be a helpful suggestion, oftentimes children are unable to regulate themselves and if they do take some breaths, they are usually not done in a way that is actually helpful.
Generally speaking, deep breathing involves teaching children to associate inhaling and exhaling with calming themselves down. Deep and slow breathing can actually improve pulmonary gas exchange efficiency, minimizing cardiac work, and lowers blood pressure. This type of breathing is often referred to as “belly breathing” or “diaphragmatic breathing.”
Why is Deep Breathing Effective?
Breathing is largely associated to the way we feel. When someone is in a relaxed state, they tend to breathe more slowly and when someone is anxious, they tend to breathe quicker. When taking a normal breath, you take in oxygen (O2), which is used in the body to create carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the waste that we breathe out. For the body to function most efficiently, the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide need to be balanced, and the balancing of these levels occurs when breathing is relaxed.
Anxious breathing is characterized by taking in more oxygen and breathing out more carbon dioxide than usual, as a result from in increase in breathing rate. Which means that when someone is in an anxious state, their carbon dioxide is being pushed out faster than it is being produced. This leads to a temporary change in the pH of blood and this change in concentration in the blood can leave individuals feeling light headed, tingling in fingers and toes, clammy, and sweaty. When breathing returns to its typical rate at a relaxed level, the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood return to normal and symptoms resolve. Essentially, deep breathing allows you to deliberately return to a relaxed state of breathing.
When to Use Deep Breathing
Deep breathing can be useful in many situations and when experiencing an array of feelings. For example, it can be helpful if your child is feeling angry, upset, anxious, tense, or in pain. One common stressful situation we often hear about is taking a test at school. If your child becomes anxious at school before taking a test, they can effectively lower their anxiety by engaging in some deep breathing strategies before the test.
Have child lay down and place a stuffed animal on their belly.
Have the child breathe in and out and watch the stuffed animal go up and down as they belly breathe.
Blowing out Birthday Candles
For this strategy, you are going to have your child pretend that there are birthday candles in front of them that they are going to blow out.
The child should take a big deep breath in and then a slow and controlled breath out, as if they are blowing out the imaginary birthday candles.
The intention of mindful breathing is to focus attention on your breath as you allow thoughts and sensations to come and go in the background.
Find a comfortable place to sit. Put your feet flat on the ground and try to straighten your posture. Gently close your eyes. Let your shoulders drop down and away from your ears.
Pay attention to your breathing and just allow yourself to continue to breathe naturally.
Rest your hands gently on your belly with your fingers lightly touching each other
Breathe in slowly through your nose. And exhale slowly through your mouth. Continue to take slow, smooth breaths.
When you breathe in, notice your belly push your hands gently apart, as you fill your lower lungs with air. When you breathe out, notice your belly sink back towards your spine as you release your breath. You can imagine that your belly is a balloon. Fill it with air and then watch it deflate.
Now continue to focus on the gentle inhalation and exhalation of your breath. In…and out…
If any other thoughts or images come to your mind during this exercise, just notice them, and gently bring your attention back to your breath.
Practice! Practice! Practice!
The best way to effectively use deep breathing strategies is by practicing them on a daily basis. It is recommended that you should practice deep breathing exercises when you do not necessarily need them at first. This is helpful for when you are feeling anxious because then you already know how to do the exercise and are an expert in the strategy that you want to use. You do not want to try deep breathing for the first time when you are in a high stress state. Parents, this is a great opportunity for both you and your child to practice deep breathing together, perhaps making it part of their bed-time routine (I.e., 5-minutes of deep breathing with mom or dad before bed). Once you have practiced deep breathing, it can be helpful to identify situations that you know might cause increased stress for you child, otherwise known as triggers. By identifying triggers, your child will then begin to effectively use deep breathing prior to those situations and should notice a calming effect.
When To Seek Additional Support
Parents, teaching your child how to engage in deep breathing is one of the many strategies that can be used when dealing with stressful situations and increased anxiety. It is important to note that what works for one child might not be the best strategy for another child. A therapist can help your child learn and practice additional skills that can be helpful for dealing with difficult emotions, including anxiety. .
At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness we specialized in assisting children and their parents with navigating life’s challenges. To learn more about me and the services I provide, checkout my profile. If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to start a free consultation.