Breathing is something that we do all day, every day. We walk around without even noticing that we’re doing it most of the time (except maybe after we climbed that flight of stairs after lunch). But being more aware of our breathing, and particularly helping children become more aware, is an incredibly powerful tool.


There is a huge amount of research available about the positive effects of mindfulness. At the core of mindfulness practice is mindful awareness, beginning with breathing. When we teach children how to control their breathing, we give them the ability to focus, and control their reactions to any situation.


When our breath is shallow and rapid, it can trigger the release of stress hormones (that fight, flight or freeze that we’re all familiar with). When our breath is slow, deep and measured, it signals our body to release hormones that are associated with feelings of calm and centered well-being. Research is showing that breath control is especially helpful for people with special challenges like ADHD, chronic pain, and history of trauma, to name a few.


There are many ways to focus on breathing. As you introduce a child to mindful breathing, you might want to ease into it. You can’t expect a child to sit quietly and breathe for several minutes on the first try. Be realistic about your expectations. It will help to introduce the idea to the child so they are on board. Here’s a sample of what you might say:


“Did you know that you do something all the time and you don’t even realize it? Can you guess what it is? Breathing! Did you know that you can use breathing to help you pay attention and even feel better when you are feeling strong emotions? Let’s play around with our breathing a little bit and see what we notice.” Then you might guide children to take some long deep breaths vs. some quick shallow breaths and let them reflect on how they feel.

Over time, you might introduce some new breathing strategies. We’ll be sharing some in the next couple of weeks that work for us, or maybe you’ll think of your own. There’s no one right strategy. Most people love some and dislike others. Work with your child until you find something that he likes. Don’t be afraid to mix it up, or to build on a strategy. Maybe you start and stop with a chime to indicate breathing time, and then a week later, you increase the time between the chimes. Or maybe you start with breathing, and then add in some body movement.

The point of mindful breathing is to calm and center the child, allow him to focus on his body for a moment. A wonderful side effect is that he’ll learn that he can control his breathing and use it to calm himself down during a moment of anxiety or stress. And the great side effect for you? A child who does a mindful breathing activity will be calmer, more relaxed, more focused, and ready to learn. And isn’t that the dream?

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