Life can get busy, overwhelming, and downright stressful—no matter how old you are. As a mindfulness teacher in an elementary school, I know that even my kindergarten students feel stress sometimes. We all need to take a big, deep breath!
You’ve probably heard “just breathe” a million times, and maybe noticed that actually taking the time to take deep breaths helps you feel more centered and calm—but did you ever think about why? Deep breaths send oxygen to the brain, soothing the amygdala, a small area in the middle of each hemisphere that acts as the brain’s alarm system.
When the amygdala is activated, it responds with the primal reactions of fight, flight, or freeze and blocks the prefrontal cortex’s ability to think clearly. This is great when we’re in actual danger, but in most cases of stress, the amygdala hijacks our ability to respond mindfully under pressure.
Deep breathing can help tremendously. But the main challenge is remembering to do it.
That's why it's helpful to know specific (and fun) breathing techniques that are great for parents and kids alike. Maybe you can breathe together at bedtime or when anyone in the family is upset. Give these five methods a try and see how much calmer your household can become.
1. Square Breath
Breathe in to a count of four, and hold the breath for a count of four. Then breathe out to a count of four, and wait for a count of four before breathing again. You’ll have to play with this a bit to find your perfect rhythm. Kids often like to draw a square in the air while they breathe, to help them stay on track.
2. Sphere Breath
Put your fingertips together and form a sphere with your two hands. As you inhale, inflate the sphere. As you exhale, flatten your hands together. Imagine your belly filling with air as your hands expand to form a sphere.
3. Darth Vader Breath
Kids love this one. Breathe in deeply through your nose. Keeping your mouth closed, exhale while you make a “Darth Vader”–type noise in the back of your throat. If your kid isn't a huge Star Wars fan, you could also refer to this as “Ocean Breath” and describe the sound as the sound of the ocean.
4. Shoulder Roll Breath
Take a deep breath in through your nose and roll your shoulders up to your ears as you inhale. Breathe out through your mouth and roll your shoulders down as you exhale. Repeat slowly in a continuous movement of shoulder rolls, timed with the breath. This should feel awesome.
5. Mountain Breath
This breath can be done sitting or standing. As you inhale through your nose, raise your arms as high as you can and bring your palms together high over the top of your head. Imagine you are as tall as a mountain. As you exhale through your mouth, bring your palms together in front of your chest.
Taking the time to breathe with your kids shows them that you're just as dedicated to being calm and peaceful as you’d like them to be. You may even want to tell your kids all about their amygdalae and explain why deep breaths are helpful when we’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Most kids really enjoy these breathing exercises. In fact, once they learn them, you might be surprised to find your kids doing these exercises all by themselves.