As parents, we are faced with choices every day about the lessons, skills, and values we want to bestow on our children. Some of these choices are pretty simple: Be a good human. How to ride a bike. Don’t poop there. Some, more complicated. Forgiveness. Compassion. Integrity.
I’m sure that one lesson you never considered having to teach your child was how to breathe. I mean, they’ve been doing that since the day they were born, no lessons required. But, of course, I’m not talking about our body’s unconscious reflex; rather, deep, full, cleansing breaths. Studies show that slow, deep breathing can reduce stress by reducing the amount of cortisol (the stress-inducing hormone) pumping through our body. Reducing cortisol results in a host of other benefits, including a stronger immune system, improved digestion, and incredible emotional support. In my own experience, there is nothing that 3 deep, soothing breaths can’t help soften.
Teaching your child how to breathe deeply is an invaluable skill—but how do you do it? There are a number of ways to go about it—even with kiddos as young as 10 months! Here are a few of my favorites.
Props are a simple way to get your child engaged and excited for the task at hand. Allow the child to briefly explore the item and ask them questions about it—What is it? What does it look like? What does it do? And then you can show them another fun way to use it! Here are a few of my favorites:
One of the easiest ways to demonstrate how to take a deep breath is to encourage your child to smell something. I love using flowers because they typically smell good, are easy for your child to hold themselves, and have beautiful, bright colors. Make it fun by asking what the flower smells like to them (and be prepared for silly answers—chocolate cake or cotton candy are some favorites!).
Depending on the age of the child, these can be a slightly more advanced technique, but I really love using Pinwheels with kiddos. They motivate children to make something move using their breath. They begin by keeping their mouth very close, and once they have that, you can encourage them to hold it further away. You can also play with how fast or slow you can move it, illustrating how they can control the power of their breath.
This is a super fun toy that has a number of uses, but I love to use it to introduce children to breathing. Simply inhale as you open the sphere, and exhale to close it. It is also fantastic for promoting turn-taking and allowing children to demonstrate their knowledge to someone else by leading them with the sphere.
No, you don’t have to pull out the candles every time you want to practice this one. A photo in a book or even your imagination can work really well here! But the idea of blowing out a flame really helps a child learn how to expel their breath—and naturally take a deep breath to gear up for blowing out the flame.
Lion, Snake, Owl...kids naturally gravitate towards animal noises. Especially for those whose expressive language hasn’t developed yet, this can be a great way for them to communicate and express themselves. Bonus, no props are needed! I always begin by asking the children if they know what sound the animal makes. Then I explain how we do it in yoga by demonstrating a BIG inhale through the nose (very exaggerated) and making the animal sound on the exhale. Here are a few of my favorites:
Snake: Take a deep breath in, on the exhale make the “hisssssss” sound
Owl: Take a deep breath in through the nose, on the exhale make the “hoooooo” sound
Lion: Take a deep breath in, STICK OUT YOUR TONGUE, and let out a loud “HAAAAA”
It’s important to remember that consistency and repetition are key for kiddos with any new skill and learning how to breathe is no different. Be patient! Don’t expect them to be good at this right away, and don’t get frustrated. Most importantly, don’t try to teach them this skill in the moment they need it, but rather integrate it in your routine so they can practice it when they are already calm. This should be a fun experience for kids, and a way for them to learn to process their emotions in a healthy way. Know that you are helping them develop a super skill that will grow with them—a tool that they will always be able to carry with them, everywhere they go.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be up to you to teach your child the skill yourself—just to provide opportunities for them to learn it. Children’s yoga classes and private sessions are a fantastic way for them to gain more knowledge about the breath and their body, giving them the tools necessary to regulate their emotions and instilling a sense of empowerment over their well-being.