By: Mallory Bushee, MSOT, OTR/L
Have you tried helping your child calm down when he or she is in a panic by saying “take a deep breath” and your little one ends up worsening the situation with rapid breaths, nearly hyperventilating? Yes, deep and soothing breaths are likely needed in this moment, but many children don’t understand what “take a deep breath” means and rational thinking isn’t easy in a moment of panic. Kids are still learning how to slow themselves down and benefit from modeling and simple tricks to make it easier to regulate in times of heightened stress.
Actually demonstrate the deep breathing for your child. First and foremost, it will give you some soothing breaths to help stay calm in the situation and second it will give them something to mirror and imitate.
Add in some imagination to help guide your child and to bring a little fun back into a stressful moment. Some creative ideas I often use to help understand deep breathing are:
- blowing out candles (fingers serve as great candles that can disappear when blown out and the number of candles can vary based on the situation)
- roller coaster finger breathing: slowly tracking pointer finger on one hand up and down the fingers of the other hand, inhaling on the way up and exhaling on the way down the finger
- smelling the flowers or hot chocolate and blowing the pedals away or cooling off the hot chocolate
- bubbles and pinwheels can be good physical aids that require deep breaths
- focusing on the rise and fall (or up and down) of the belly or shoulders
- blowing up balloon (arms can serve as a balloon that grows with the number of breaths and then we can float away on a relaxing journey)