Learning to Relax: Calm Breathing

Calm breathing is a technique you can teach your child to slow down his/her breathing when s/he is feeling stressed or anxious. When we are anxious, we may find we take short, quick, shallow breaths leading to over-breathing, also known as hyperventilating. Over-breathing can increase physical symptoms associated with a panic attack, which in turn can lead to elevated anxiety and fear. Calm breathing, on the other hand, can decrease physical symptoms, and reduce anxious feelings and worry thoughts. As the pace of breathing slows, this allows your child to feel better able to cope with what is happening. Since we always carry our lungs with us, calm breathing is a quick and easy MAP tool your child can use anytime, anywhere.

Note: Calm Breathing is intended for use when your child is struggling to tolerate the unwanted sensations, urges, thoughts, and feelings that come with worry. It can also be used to help your child cope through the sometimes scary sensations that come with a panic attack. As a result, calm breathing can help your child float with his/her worry and/or panic, rather than trying to fight or control it. Calm Breathing is not meant to control, eliminate, or avoid generalized worry or panic attacks, but to tolerate and cope with worry.

 

How to Explain Calm Breathing to Your Child

Catch your child at a good time when s/he will be receptive to spending 5-10 minutes practicing together calm breathing. Next, find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed, somewhere warm and comfortable such as a living room or your child’s bedroom. Then, review some of the information outlined in the previous section. You might say it this way:

“When kids feel worried about stuff, it's normal for their breathing to speed up. When it does, it can make kids feel uncomfortable in their bodies, which makes them feel even more anxious. Our job is to learn how to slow down your breathing so you can float with your feelings and feel calm again. So, let's begin. I’d like you to sit or lie down in a comfortable spot and gently close your eyes. I’m going to teach you how to do deep, belly breathing. I want you to listen to my voice and do what I say. It's okay if you don’t get it at first, just try.”

 

Script

“Imagine you have a red balloon attached to the end of a long straw that reaches from your mouth and goes to your belly.

Place your hand on your belly over your belly button and feel how the balloon inflates and deflates as your belly goes up and down as you breathe. Kinda cool huh?

Now, close your eyes and keep your hand on your belly, and let’s begin. Take a slow, deep breath of air in through your nose as you count in your head 1, 2, 3, and then pause and hold it for the count of 1, 2, 3. Then slowly breathe out making your lips into a circle as if you are blowing out candles on the count of 1, 2, 3.  Keep imagining the red balloon getting bigger as you inhale and smaller as you exhale. Take a slow, deep breath of air in through your nose counting in your head 1, 2, 3, and then pause and hold it for the count of 1, 2, 3. Then breathe out 1, 2, 3.

Focus on the air traveling in and out slowly and evenly making you feel calm. Take another slow, deep breath of air in through your nose 1, 2, 3, making the balloon bigger, and then pause and hold it for 1, 2, 3, and then blow away the worry 1, 2, 3 making the balloon shrink. 

Your breathing is starting to slow down. Again, take a slow, deep breath of air in through your nose counting 1, 2, 3, making the balloon bigger, next pause and hold it for 1, 2, 3, and then blow away the worry 1, 2, 3 shrinking the balloon.

Your body is beginning to feel calm and heavy, which means the worry is floating away and you are starting to feel calm and strong. Lets keep doing this to help you stay calm. Take a slow, deep breath of air in through your nose as you count 1, 2, 3, big balloon and then pause and hold it for 1, 2, 3, and then blow away the worry 1, 2, 3 little balloon. Lovely. Again. Take a slow, deep breath of air in through your nose 1, 2, 3, and then pause and hold it for the count of 1, 2, 3, and then blow away the worry 1, 2, 3.

Take a slow, deep breath of air in through your nose as you count 1, 2, 3, big balloon and then pause and hold it for 1, 2, 3, and then blow away the worry 1, 2, 3 little balloon. Lovely. Again. Take a slow, deep breath of air in through your nose 1, 2, 3, and then pause and hold it for the count of 1, 2, 3, and then blow away the worry 1, 2, 3. Let's do two more breaths. Take a slow, deep breath of air in through your nose as you count 1, 2, 3, big balloon and then pause and hold it for 1, 2, 3, and then blow away the worry 1, 2, 3 little balloon. Lovely. Again. Take a slow, deep breath of air in through your nose 1, 2, 3, and then pause and hold it for the count of 1, 2, 3, and then blow away the worry 1, 2, 3.”

 

Options: To enhance the fun factor you can try using bubbles during the exercise. This can be a fun way for children to learn how to slow down their breathing as the deeper and slower your breathe when you blow the bubble wand, the more bubbles you will produce. Alternatively, you can have your child place a stuffed animal on his or her belly and have him or her lie on their bed. As your child breathes in and out, the stuffed animal should rise and fall in rhythm with their inhalation and exhalation. For older children you can also add in to the script an option to use a word duo on the inhalation and exhalation. For example, using the word “calm” on the in breath, and “body” on the out breath. These words can be used in lieu of counting 1, 2, 3. Finally, you can make a recording for your child using a simple audio recording device on your smart phone, computer, or download from the internet. This will allow you to make a single recording that lets your child use it many times without you having to be there.

 

 

Tips

  • When belly breathing, make sure your child’s shoulders and chest are fairly relaxed and still. Only the belly should be moving.  
  • Until your child is comfortable with this skill, s/he should practice it at least twice a day, doing 10 calm breaths in a row.
  • Once your child is comfortable with this technique, he or she can start using it in situations that cause anxiety. At first you may need to remind your child, but over time s/he will be able to remember that using calm breathing is a fast and easy way to reduce unwanted worry. However, make sure your child understands that the goal of calm breathing is not to escape or avoid worry, but to helps kids tolerate anxiety and cope with stress in a calm and mindful way.
  • For teens, check out our teen site for other breathing scripts.
Calm Breathing - Female voice - Brief version
Calm Breathing - Female voice - Long version
Calm Breathing - Male voice - Brief version
Calm Breathing - Male voice - Long version