Breathing Exercises For Kids

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated August 24, 2022

Breathing exercises are a common coping skill used among adults, but children and teens can use them and benefit from them as well. So, you might wonder, what are breathing exercises used for, and how do they work? What are some kid-friendly breathing exercises? Keep reading to find out.

What Are Breathing Exercises?

Breathing exercises are more or less exactly what they sound like. Breathing exercises consist of breathing in a purposeful way that applies mindfulness, and they are an excellent way to self-soothe. Research indicates that breathing exercises can be advantageous for people in a number of different ways and that they can be positive for both mental and physical health. If you or a loved one is struggling with your mental health, don't hesitate to reach out to an online therapist for support.

What Do Breathing Exercises Help With?

If you're looking into breathing exercises for children, you were probably wondering what concerns they can help out with in kids. Here are some of the common concerns that breathing exercises are used for:

  • Anger: Breathing exercises can help a child deescalate and enter a calmer state when they are angry or upset. Afterward using a tool to calm down like breathing exercises, many kids are able to communicate their feelings in a more balanced and productive way.
  • Stress: Just like adults, kids and teens face stress. Breathing exercises are a free and relatively accessible coping skill for stress management. It can give kids a sense of control when they are feeling overwhelmed.
  • Anxiety: Various studies have shown that breathing exercises can help those facing anxiety symptoms. Like with stress and anger, kids can feel anxiety just as much as adults can, having tools to support them during times of overwhelm is essential. When kids feel anxious, focusing on deep breaths can lower their heart rate, relax chest tension, and have a calming effect.
  • Sleep: Deep breathing calms the body and elicits a sense of relaxation naturally. This can help you fall asleep.

Deep or diaphragmatic can also support one's physical health by promoting healthy blood pressure and respiratory muscle strength. Deep breathing exercises work by increasing the flow of oxygen in your body and promoting mindfulness by giving you something to focus on. Deep breaths and receiving more oxygen can activate the parasympathetic nervous system to help you heal. Also, one of the best things about breathing exercises is that they can be used virtually anywhere. Like adults, kids need healthy coping skills, and breathing exercises are an excellent tool to add to the kit.

Breathing Exercises For Kids

Breathing can be a useful coping skill and it is beneficial that kids learn this early. To practice deep breathing techniques with your child, make sure you are in a relaxed environment and sitting comfortably. There are several ways to practice breathing. Here are some child-friendly breathing exercises that only require quick explanations:

5-5-10 breathing

This is a quick, simplistic breathing exercise, and it's exactly what it sounds like. To engage in the 5-5-10 breathing exercise, simply breathe in while counting to five at an even pace. Then, hold your breath while you count to five at the same even pace. After that, breathe out slowly while you count to ten. You can find videos online with instructions on how to do this exercise, but it is relatively easy to grasp and present to children.

4-7-8 breathing

This particular breathing exercise is one that many use to fall asleep. If your child struggles to unwind, this might be the exercise for you. To do this, close your eyes and breathe in slowly as you count to four. Then, pause and hold your breath while you count to seven. Once you're done counting to seven, let your breath out slowly while counting to eight.

Equal breathing

This is among one of the easiest breathing exercises. It essentially requires equal inhale to exhale breaths. To do this, simply breathe in while you count to four. Pause. Then, breathe out for another four counts. Do this at a slow, steady pace. Practice this multiple times until you or your child start to feel better.

Alternate nostril breathing

Cover one nostril with your thumb. Let’s say you cover the left nostril. Breathe air in through the other nostril. For this exercise, make sure to take deep breaths and not quick sniffs. Cover the right nostril and blow air out slowly through the left one. Keep alternating until you feel more relaxed.

Tumble dryer

To begin this breathing, kids should sit with legs crossed. Place your index fingers in front of your mouth. Take a big breath in through your nose, then exhale. As you blow out through your mouth, move your fingers around each other like they are rolling.

Belly breathing 

Belly breathing is relatively straightforward. To start, sit, stand, or lay down with your back flat on the floor. Make sure that you're in a comfortable position. Then, put your hand or gently lay a finger on the front of your stomach. Breath in slowly, directing the air toward your hand while keeping it on your belly. Take a pause. Then, let the breath out slowly and peacefully. It can help to close your eyes or instruct your child to close their eyes when they use deep belly breathing to promote further relaxation. Deep belly breathing can lower the heart rate and blood pressure when stressed.

Deep breathing with props

For younger kids or kids of any age who may have trouble finding the desire to engage in breathing exercises on their own, using props can be incredibly beneficial. Kids learn best when having fun—including ways to breathe for relaxation. Typically, this makes it feel more like a game and less like an exercise or purposeful attempt to calm down. Using a tool such as a pinwheel, bubbles, or even dandelion seeds found outside, encourage deep belly breaths or use one of the counting exercises above, but use it with the prop. For example, they can put a toy on their stomach and watch it move up and down during belly breathing to measure how much air they are taking in. They can also put it on their chest to make sure they breathe deeply enough. A Hoberman sphere is a toy they can use easily as a prop. When breathing into your chest, open the sphere. When you blow out, close the sphere. The sphere can be a sign showing them what happens to their lungs as they inhale versus exhale.

"Blowing bubbles" 

Bubble breathing is a fun way to practice deep breaths. If you don't have a physical prop such as a bubble-blowing wand, one way to teach kids deep breathing is to ask them to pretend that they're blowing bubbles. Instruct the child to hold out their hand like they're holding a bubble wand. They can use a finger as the wand as well. Once they do that, ask them to close their eyes and breathe in while you count to five. Then, ask them to pause. After that, tell them to let the breath out slowly and evenly. You can also ask them to pretend that they are blowing dandelion seeds, birthday candles, or any other prop that works for the exercise.

Feather breathing

This exercise is done using a prop, but it does have an added element of mindfulness. Get a bag of colored feathers at your local craft store. Have a child place a feather of their choice on their hand. To start, instruct your child to close their eyes, breathe in, and hold the feather in front of their face. Then, tell them to release their breath without letting the feather fall from their hand.

The dragon game

Similar to the use of props, making deep breathing into a game is a way to make breathing exercises more appealing to kids. Ask your child to pretend that they're a dragon and instruct them to breathe in slowly because they are playing dragon and are preparing to breathe out fire. Ask them to hold their breath and pause. Then, have them look around and breathe out slowly to ensure that the "fire" gets all across the room. These dragon fire breaths will help the child exhale slowly and deliberately through their mouth. There are different variations of this exercise, and there are videos online made specifically for kids that teach them how to play the dragon game or engage in dragon breathing. Another common variation is "the snake game" or snake breathing. To play the snake game, you'll engage in the same pattern of deep breathing, but instead of being a dragon, you breathe out with a hissing sound as though you are a snake. You will need to take a deep breath in order to inhale enough air to exhale a long snake breath.

Bumblebee breath

Bumblebee breaths are another fun, animal-inspired way to breathe deeply. Inhale deeply through the nose. Gather as much air as you can in your lungs. When you exhale, make a buzzing sound like a bee with your mouth. The vibrating breaths can help you return to the body and avoid distractions. Try putting a finger over your mouth or on your throat to feel the vibration as you blow out.  

Bunny breath

Bunny breaths incorporate the use of fingers and arms so children can engage the use of their body while taking a deep breath. Hold up two fingers and imagine they are the bunny’s ears. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Start with your fingers low and curled. Then, take a deep breath with your nose scrunched up like a bunny. As you do this, raise your arm slowly while lifting the ears (your fingers) as you go. When you exhale, breathe out slowly while lowering your arm and the bunny’s ears.

Mountain breathing

Draw four mountain peaks on a piece of paper. Using your index fingers, trace the mountains. Take a deep breath in through your nose as you go up the mountain. As your finger moves down the slope, exhale the air through your mouth. 

There are also a number of books, audiobooks, free printables, and recordings of guided breathing exercises for children that you can find to help children grasp and engage in breathing exercises. If your child is struggling with concerns such as anger, and trouble sleeping, difficulty at school, or anything else that may impact their mental health, you may consider finding a counselor or therapist who works with their age group. If you are going through a difficult time or simply need someone to talk to yourself, you may also benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor.

Find Support

We all need support from time to time, and asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. Whether you're struggling with parenting, stress, a life change or transition, overwhelm, symptoms of a mental health condition, or anything else that's going on in your life, seeing a therapist or counselor can help. There are a number of different ways to find a counselor or therapist who meets your needs. You can contact your insurance company to see who they cover, ask your doctor for a referral, search the web, or sign up for an online therapy platform like BetterHelp (for adults) or TeenCounseling (for teens). All of the providers on the BetterHelp and TeenCounseling platforms are licensed, and online therapy is typically more affordable than a traditional in-person practice in the absence of insurance. Regardless of how you find a counselor or therapist, you deserve to get quality care, so don't hesitate to reach out and get started today.

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