We’ve covered a lot of themed breathing exercises for kids here on the website. On this page, you’ll find all of those breathing exercises in one place.
If you are a therapist, a teacher, or a parent, you have probably at one time or another, needed a quick strategy to help kids pay attention to the task at hand, calm down, or manage their stress. Have you ever had a child break down from fatigue, overwhelming emotions, or sensory needs? Breathing exercises for kids are one of those tools that require no materials or therapy equipment and can be used anywhere.
BENEFITS OF BREATHING EXERCISES for Kids
Deep breathing exercises have been known to reduce blood pressure, cortisol levels, and other markers of stress in adults for some time now (2). The practice of purposeful breathing has been shown to be an effective way to enhance emotions and reduce anxiety without prescription medication (5). Research guiding this practice in children is catching up to what many clinicians already know from their practice – that the positive impacts of breathing exercises for children are boundless!
Deep breathing exercises can improve a child’s attention, emotional regulation, and social skills (1; 7). When done correctly, there are no known negative effects of deep breathing exercises and many positive physiological, psychological, emotional, and behavioral effects for people of all ages.
Related: Breath Control
Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises for Children
There is more to breathing exercises than just taking deep breaths. Let’s break down the how to use diaphragmatic breathing as a therapeutic tool.
What is DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING?
Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is one of the most common types of breathing exercises for reducing stress and increasing positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
This is because when you take a deep belly breath, it triggers the parasympathetic nervous system (3). This is the system of the body that is responsible for calming you down; it’s the “rest and digest” that opposes the “fight or flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system.
How to use diaphragmatic breathing
- Start by taking a deep breath in through your nose and try to fill your lower belly with air. Think of pushing the belly button out.
- The diaphragm muscle contracts when you breathe, but when you purposefully use your belly on your inhalation, the air can move deeper into the body. This increases the length of the diaphragm and the efficiency of respiration.
- More carbon dioxide is released into the bloodstream, which is great for all parts of the body that thrive on CO2.
- Full, deep breaths turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, which tells many parts of the body to calm down.
- Because of its effects on the parasympathetic nervous system, diaphragmatic breathing stabilizes body temperature, heartbeat and blood pressure, and relaxes tense muscles (3).
- Now that you are calm, you are more able to regulate your emotions and behaviors, attend to difficult tasks, and be more present in all of your occupations!
Use these Deep Breathing Exercise Flashcards to boost your child’s understanding of certain breathing exercises, like balloon breathing, belly breathing, bubble breaths, and more!
Themed Deep Breathing Exercises for Kids
To help young children learn deep breathing exercises, we have put together a mega-list of slide decks for your toolbox! Check out the many different options below, based on your child’s interests, the current season, or upcoming holidays!
Deep Breathing Exercises and GUIDED MEDITATION
Controlled breathing is often a staple of guided meditation. Research suggests that deep breathing exercises coupled with meditation practices may increase the positive outcomes.
“mindfulness meditation decreases anxiety and detrimental self-focus of attention, which, in turn, promotes social skills and academic outcomes” (Beauchemin, Hutchins & Patterson, 2008)
Generally, the evidence from recent research says that guided meditation can help children self-regulate their emotions and behaviors (4). This, in turn, increases attention and wanted behaviors, and promotes positive social and academic outlooks.
There is also evidence that shows its effectiveness with children with attentional deficits, like ADHD. Mindfulness meditation, including breathing exercises, was found to be effective in reducing behavioral problems and increasing attention in primary school students with ADHD in multiple studies (1; 7).
This research is really fantastic news for anyone who teaches children, works with children, or has children of their own – we all know how hard it is to maintain their attention!
Even more great news – a mindfulness meditation course that was used during physical education class was shown to improve working memory in its participants (6).
How will you use breathing exercises to improve your child’s life (and yours!)?
1. Beauchemin, J., Hutchins, T. L. & Patterson, F. (2008). Mindfulness meditation may lessen anxiety, promote social skills, and improve academic performance among adolescents with learning disabilities. Complementary Health Practice Review, 13 (1), 34-45. https://doi.org/10.1177/1533210107311624
2. Brown, R. P., Gerbarg, P. L., & Muench, F. (2013). Breathing practices for treatment of psychiatric and stress-related medical conditions. The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 36(1), 121–140. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2013.01.001
3. Chen, Y., Huang, X., Chien, C., & Cheng, J. (2017). The Effectiveness of Diaphragmatic Breathing Relaxation Training for Reducing Anxiety. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 53(4), 329–336. https://doi-org.cuw.ezproxy.switchinc.org/10.1111/ppc.12184
4. Crescentini, C., Capurso, V., Furlan, S., & Fabbro, F. (2016). Mindfulness-oriented meditation for primary school children: Effects on attention and psychological well-being. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 805. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00805
5. Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., Wei, G. X., & Li, Y. F. (2017). The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 874. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
6. Quach, D., Jastrowski Mano, K. E. & Alexander, K. (2016). A randomized controlled trial examining the effect of mindfulness meditation on working memory capacity in adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 58(5), 489-496. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.09.024
7. Santonastaso, O., Zaccari, V., Crescentini, C., Fabbro, F., Capurso, V., Vicari, S. & Menghin, D. (2020). Clinical application of mindfulness-oriented meditation: A preliminary study in children with ADHD. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(18), 6916. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17186916
Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.