Breathing. We do it every minute of every day and we don’t even think about it. Usually when I talk to people about learning deep breathing as a coping strategy they roll their eyes a little bit and think “that won’t work for me!”
But usually once we start learning about why it works and how it works and once parents give it a try with their children, it quickly becomes one of their favourite tools for helping their child with anxiety.
There is a whole body of literature out there about deep breathing. Scientists have found evidence that it relaxes the muscles in our body, slows our heart rate, and calms our nervous system.
Deep breathing forces us to learn stop and think about our breath, and to concentrate on the pace of our breathing. This helps us to focus our brains for a moment onto our bodies and away from the things we are worrying about. Part of this exercise is training our brains to focus on the things we want it to focus on rather than letting it run wild with those worrying thoughts.
Practicing deep breathing every day can help our children to get into the habit of deep breathing – this way they can start to deep breath whenever they face a difficult situation without even thinking about it. As a bonus it can be a great way to connect with our kids in our busy lives – it is a simple bedtime exercise but is also time that is spent together being very present together.
Of course treating mental health in children always requires a number of different tools and often a team of people, so if your child is struggling with problematic levels of anxiety then you will want to learn about other tools, but deep breathing is always a great place to start. And the good news is that learning deep breathing is good for all kids – whether they have a problematic level of anxiety or whether they just want to learn how to cope with everyday stress. It is a great skill that will serve them well throughout their life.
If you want to try at home there are some simple steps:
1. Start by teaching kids to breath into their diaphragms instead of more shallow breast into their chests. We often teach children to pretend they are filling up a balloon in their tummy with air.
2. Count to three for the breath in, count to three as they hold their breath, and count to three for the release.
3. Do this a few times every night and watch as it becomes a very healthy habit and coping strategy for your child.