5 fun mindful breathing exercises that help kids calm down
Mindful breathing is a simple and effective way to introduce your child to mindfulness and help them learn how to calm their minds and bodies.
Why? Because when the nervous system is under stress, the fight or flight response is triggered. When this happens, the body prepares to either escape or fight a physical threat. This leads to tension in the body, as well as rapid, shallow breathing, which can often further exacerbate stress, fear and overwhelm.
Deep, slow breathing activates the part of the nervous system responsible for switching off the fight or flight response. This sends a message to the brain that there is no longer any danger present and enables your child to calm down.
Mindful breathing alleviates stress and anxiety, and is a simple and effective way to teach children to regulate their emotions.
Teaching kids mindful breathing
Now here’s where it gets tricky. We often tell children to “take a deep breath” when they are feeling upset or overwhelmed. But kids don’t know what “take a deep breath” means. They don’t know HOW to take a deep breath. So simply telling them to do it isn’t going to work. Especially if they’re mid meltdown.
The best way to teach children mindful breathing, is to provide them with visual cues and other sensory feedback which helps them improve their focus and master the technique. We need to teach them in a fun way that they can actually understand by turning a somewhat abstract concept into something they can see and feel.
It is recommended that you do not try any of these mindful breathing exercises for the first time while your child is distressed. Practicing them while your child is in a relaxed and calm state means they will be more receptive to trying something new, and better able to learn the technique effectively.
Ready to get started? Here are 5 fun and easy mindful breathing exercises that help kids calm down
1. Buddy Breathing
This is a great exercise to do at bedtime to get your little one ready for sleep. Ask your child to lay down on their back, and place their favourite stuffed toy or pillow on their belly (we love using our BE Buddy). Now ask your child to pay attention to their buddy as they take a deep breath in through their nose and out through their mouth. Their buddy (and belly) should rise with each inhale, and drop with each exhale. Ask your child to slow their buddy’s movement down as much as they can!
2. Dragon Breathing
Dragon breathing is lots of fun and simple even for young toddlers. Ask your child to imagine they are a fierce, fire breathing dragon. They’re going to take a big breath in through their nose, and then on the exhale, they’ll open their mouth wide, stick out their tongue and imagine they are breathing fire like a dragon! This is one of our favourites – expect lots of giggles while you practice!
3. Take 5 Breathing
Ask your child to hold up one hand, fingers spread wide so their hand looks like a star! Now they take the index finger of the opposite hand and place it at the base of their thumb. As they breathe in, have them slide their index finger up towards the tip of their thumb, and as they breathe out, they slide it back down the other side. They continue tracing around each finger, breathing in as they move up and down as they move out, until they’ve done all five fingers. We have a poster of this one in my daughter’s calm down space because its a quick and simple exercise to use when your child needs help mid-meltdown! You can grab your own posters in the Mindful Little Calm Down Kit.
4. Feather Breathing
Find a feather (the more colourful, the better!). We like to use the feathers on the top of our BE Buddy for this one too. Ask your child to hold the feather out in front of them while they place one hand on their tummy. Now have them take a deep breath in through their nose, making sure their hand moves as their tummy fills with air. As they breathe out, ask your child to focus their breath the feather and try and make it move! This exercise is particularly calming because it requires a long and forceful exhale. This activates the vagus nerve, which is responsible for switching off the stress response!
5. Bubble Breathing
Another fun one that my daughter has loved to do since she was just a tiny toddler, is Bubble Breathing. You can pretend to blow bubbles when you do this, or you can use real bubbles, which makes it so much more fun! Your child simply takes a deep breath in through their nose, and then slowly and gently blows out through their mouth, imagining they are blowing a HUGE bubble that fills the whole room! If you use real bubbles, this is a great way to teach children to breathe slowly and purposely. Too fast or hard, and the bubble pops!
Did you love these exercises? You can find more calming mindful breathing exercises on our website. Check out the Mindful Little Breathing Bundle to grab a set of 6 Breathing Boards, 18 Mindful Breathing Cards, and 5 Mindful Breathing Posters for your Calm Down Space!
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.