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Key Takeaways:

  • Breathing exercises help kids return to a state of calm when they feel stressed, overwhelmed, angry, or sad.
  • Practicing deep breathing can reduce the risk of developing anxiety and depression, increase energy levels, and even create positive physiological effects.
  • Examples of breathing exercises for kids include the 4-7-8 technique, STAR breathing, breathing with props, and bubble breathing.

When children find themselves up against overwhelming emotions, frustration can bubble up into hyperventilation. Parents, caregivers, and teachers usually instruct their children to take a deep breath—and there’s a good reason behind it.

Breathing exercises for kids offer plentiful benefits, which you’ll learn in this article.

Benefits of Deep Breathing for Kids

Calming breathing exercises for kids don’t just bring them back from intense emotions—they also provide undeniable mind-body benefits, including the following:

  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Increased energy levels
  • Enhanced immunity
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Decreased feelings of stress

Deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system, eliciting the body’s relaxation response and enabling a child to counter stress [*].

A recent Stanford study shows that four deep breaths can significantly reduce a child’s physiological arousal [*]. It also emphasizes the need for guided breathing, as simply telling a child to take a deep breath won’t always suffice, especially when it isn’t intuitive.

Deep Breathing Exercises for Kids

Breathing techniques for kids can be more complex than you anticipate. They also serve various purposes. Here are our recommended breathing strategies for kids.

1. Ballon Breaths

Balloon breaths make an excellent introduction to mindfulness practices. Here’s how to do them:

  1. Sit or stand—whatever is most comfortable.
  2. Place both hands on top of your head.
  3. Breathe in slowly. As you breathe in, raise your hands above your head like a balloon inflating.
  4. Breathe out gradually, slowly bringing your hands to your head.
  5. Deepen your breath with each inhale.

2. Bubble Breaths

As its name suggests, bubble breaths involve blowing imaginary bubbles—a creative and simple way to get kids interested in calming exercises. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position. Imagine you are holding a bubble wand.
  2. Breathe in deeply. As you exhale, breathe out through your mouth as if blowing bubbles.
  3. Imagine the bubbles are filled with peace, love, and calm.

3. 4-7-8 Breathing

4-7-8 breathing entails breathing in for four seconds, holding it for seven, and exhaling for eight seconds. This rhythmic breathing is a form of Pranayama, a yogic practice that aims to reduce anxiety and improve sleep. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Empty your lungs of air, breathing in through the nose for four seconds.
  2. Hold your breath for seven seconds.
  3. Exhale through the mouth for seven seconds, pursing the lips and making a whoosh noise.

Kids who can’t hold their breath this long can modify the pattern.

4. Bunny Breaths

Bunny breaths are not your typical breathing pattern — they are more energetic and inspire imagination. Here’s how to do them:

  1. Sit or stand, scrunching up your nose like a garden rabbit.
  2. Take three quick breaths in through the nose.
  3. Round your mouth, forcefully exhaling all the air.

5. STAR Breaths

STAR breathing stands for:

  • Stop
  • Take a deep breath
  • And
  • Relax

It’s a safe and relaxing choice. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed.
  2. Take a few deep breaths in and out.
  3. Begin visualizing a star as you practice your breaths. Imagine you are drawing energy in with every side and sending this energy out with each point.

6. Animal Breaths

Animal breaths are excellent mindfulness and educational tools. They’re also great for achieving calm after a high-energy experience. Here are a few ways to practice animal breaths:

  • Snake: Take a deep breath in and exhale through your mouth, making a hissing noise.
  • Elephant: Stand with your feet wide apart, dangling both arms like an elephant trunk. Breathe in through the nose, lifting your “trunks” up. Breathe out through the mouth, allowing your “trunks” to fall.
  • Bear: Imagine a bear hibernating, breathing in slowly through the nose. Hold your breath for three seconds, breathing out slowly for three extra counts.
  • Monkey: Sit up tall while crossing your legs. Place your hands on your belly. Take a deep breath in, stretching one arm up. Breathe out quickly and forcefully, bringing your hand back down. Switch hands every time.

7. Rainbow Breaths

Rainbow breaths are simple and visual breathing exercises that are a great way to start the day. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Start by standing or sitting comfortably.
  2. Take slow breaths in and out, visualizing a different color of the rainbow each time.

8. Breathing with Props

Deep breathing isn’t always an exciting process for kids. Using props can make these exercises more engaging. You can use virtually any prop, including:

  • Pompoms
  • Scarves
  • Pillows
  • Yoga chimes
  • Stuffed animals
  • Pinwheels

9. Smell the Flower, Blow Out the Candles

Picturing a visual can help children remember their breathing exercises. Use this technique to reinforce the pattern:

  1. Picture yourself smelling a flower and slowly breathe in.
  2. Picture yourself blowing out the candles on a birthday cake, breathing out through the mouth.
  3. Recite “Smell the flower, blow out the candles” with each breath.

10. Counting Breaths

There are many ways to count breaths: friendship beads, an abacus, rocks, and other visual or tangible cues.

You can also use breath pacers, which are visual or auditory breathing cues. They cater to different breathing speeds and are easy to adjust for younger learners.

11. Heart Breaths

Heart breaths are excellent for calm-down settings in classrooms or therapy. Here’s how this mindfulness exercise works:

  1. Look at your heart-shaped figure.
  2. Breathe in and breathe out as you trace the symbol.

12. Square Breaths

Square or box breathing aims to lower stress levels, bringing kids back down to a relaxed and focused place. Here’s how to practice square breathing:

  1. Start inhaling for a count of four.
  2. Hold your breath for four seconds.
  3. Exhale for a count of four.
  4. Rest for four seconds.

13. Infinity Breaths

Infinity breathing is a simple, easy-to-remember exercise that kids can use anywhere, anytime. You can use it at home at the end of the day, on the way to school, or when your child is feeling troubled. Here’s how to use an infinity breathing poster:

  1. Start with your finger in the middle of the shape.
  2. Breathe in and breathe out while tracing the shape.

The Bottom Line

Whether a child or an adult, achieving a state of calm can be challenging—but deep breathing exercises can go a long way. Introducing your child to deep breathing techniques can help them learn to relax their muscles and clear their minds.

Our breathing exercises aim to equip parents, teachers, and caregivers who provide children with the tools to overcome overwhelming emotions.

Sources:

  1. Russo M, Santarelli DM, O’Rourke D. “The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human.” Breathe, 2017.
  2. Spector, C. “How Four Deep Breaths Can Help Kids Calm Down.” Greater Good, 2022.