(Optional) – Toy bubble container
This is an activity to help children learn to recognise and regulate their breathing. Often when children are stressed or anxious they will complain of physical symptoms such as tummy pain or a sore chest. This is because they are not able to understand or articulate their feelings well enough to tell you that they are anxious. Children are also unlikely to notice that their breathing is quick and shallow when they are anxious, something that only further increases a feeling of panic. This exercise gives children a technique to use when they are feeling worried to help them relax.
You can do this with a small or big group. Stand at the front of the group with the children at desks or on the floor facing the leader. You can amend the script to suit the group or use this text:
Today we are going to practice our calm breathing. This is a special trick to help you feel calm if you are worried or scared about something. We are going to learn how to do it today and then you can keep practicing it yourself.
I want everyone to sit comfortably on their chair. Keep your back straight and your head facing the front. You can close your eyes if you want but you don’t have to. Now, I am going to count to 3 and we are all going to take a slow breath in. I want you to make the breath last until I get to 3 and after that I want you to breathe out just as slowly while I count to 3. Don’t gulp the air in, just breathe in slowly and feel yourself fill up with air.
Are you ready? Ok,
Breathe in 1 —- 2 —- 3 —-. Now breathe out 1 —- 2 —- 3 —-.
Did everyone feel themselves inflate like a balloon and then deflate again? We’re going to try that again and we’re going to do it a few times in a row.
Breathe in 1 —- 2 —- 3 —-, breathe out 1 —- 2 —- 3 —-.
Repeat this for a minimum of 5 breaths in and 5 breaths out. A good number to aim for is 10.
Depending on the age of the children some may have difficulty with the concept of breathing slowly. If this is the case you can use the toy bubbles to help them get the idea. Show them that when blowing bubbles they have to breathe out very slowly or the bubble will burst. Once they have got this concept you can remove the bubbles and get them to repeat the sensation without the prop.
Another option is to get them to feel their stomachs move in and out as they breathe. This is often good with older children. You can ask them to feel their stomach move out as they breathe in and imagine a balloon inflating inside them. When they breathe out they should imagine the balloon deflating.
It can also be good to put this activity in context for children by allowing them to discuss how the breathing made them feel. Ask them if they could feel their air going in and out, if they felt relaxed afterwards and to tell you anything else they may have observed. When they are actively engaged in the activity they will be more likely to remember to use it later if they are feeling anxious or worried.
This is also a good technique to use with the Pip. If you have Pips available ask them to try calm breathing versus quick breathing and see how this changes how fast their dragon flies on Relax and Race or how the graph changes on Stress Tracker. This will show them in a very visual way how calm breathing can help them to relax. You can have some children use the Pip while others practice breathing and then switch.