In Anxious Kids, parenting and wellbeing experts Michael Grose and Dr Jodi Richardson offer practical advice so parents and carers can help children turn anxiety into resilience. From developing emotional intelligence and mindfulness to the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet, Grose and Richardson give advice on a range of steps parents can take to help their kids manage anxiety, and thrive. Practising deep breathing has been shown to alleviate stress, calm anxiety, increase energy and increase mindfulness. In the passage below, Grose and Richardson offer some tips on how to get started.
Breathing is essential for our survival. It’s automatic. We don’t give it any thought until we have breathing difficulties, or we’re underwater. Then we appreciate what a life force it is. However, breathing in the right way, at the right moment, is more than merely a survival mechanism. It can help us feel better, prepare better and perform better when we need to be at our best.
You need to breathe into your abdomen, not just your chest. Your body gives clues to the quality of your breathing. Stay still and notice your breathing. If your shoulders rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale, then you are breathing into your chest, known as shallow breathing. If your stomach expands as you inhale and contracts on exhalation, then you’re breathing into your diaphragm, also known as deep breathing. In the normal course of the day our breathing patterns will change but most people breathe from their chests, which is both an indication and a cause of stress, pressure and a sedentary lifestyle.
Recognition of the benefits of deep-breathing exercises dates back to ancient Roman and Greek times when doctors recommended the voluntary holding of air in the lungs as a way of cleansing the body of impurities. Deep-breathing exercises include taking big, deep breathes in through your nose, holding them in your diaphragm and exhaling slowly through your mouth. Here’s a simple deep-breathing exercise to try:
- Inhale through your nose and expand your stomach. Count to five while inhaling.
- Hold and count to three.
- Exhale fully through your slightly parted mouth and count to five.
- Repeat for at least two minutes.
How deep breathing helps
The physiological benefits attributed to deep breathing are many: it may offer the potential to reduce cardiovascular disease; it encourages full oxygen exchange, which provides the optimum conditions for the body to process toxins; and it allows you to build your endurance for strenuous exercise, as well as improve posture, which in turn may relieve muscle stress.
How to teach deep breathing to kids
Suggesting to a child that you do a breathing exercise together may seem odd at first. You may even be met with resistance. However, don’t underestimate your child’s willingness to take on new ideas. As a principle, we suggest you explain the benefits in language that kids understand before you introduce anything new or different to their lifestyles. Middle to late primary–aged children and secondary school–aged kids are capable of understanding the impact that breathing has on their physiology and emotions – that it slows their heart rate, relaxes their muscles and helps bring their attention to the present. Assist younger children to understand that deep breathing helps them relax and stay calm. Make deep breathing enjoyable.
A fun addition to your toolkit of breathing exercises is to stand on the opposite side of a table to your child, each with a straw in hand. Take turns trying to blow a small marble from one side of the table to the other, each keeping a slow, steady out-breath.
Consider introducing some breathing games or an activity to relax kids at bedtime or let them join you in a three-minute deep-breathing routine when they wake up each morning. This type of regularity helps to embed deep breathing into their lifestyle, making it a potent preventative and remedial tool for anxiety, stress and worry.