Have you ever noticed your child start to appear overwhelmed, agitated, or disappointed and you fear they are heading toward a meltdown? An effective skill you can practice with your child to help them cope with difficult emotions is called diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing.
Practicing belly breathing can help calm your child’s body and mind so they can manage emotions and effectively approach situations.
When we feel stressed or overwhelmed, our body goes into fight or flight mode to prepare to fight a stressor or flee from it. When in fight or flight mode, our body mobilizes energy and our breathing consists of short, shallow breaths. While this type of breathing is helpful when encountering a physical threat such as a lion chasing us, persistent shallow breathing can have a negative impact on physical and mental health.
Belly breathing involves breathing in deeply through the nose and breathing out through the mouth so the lungs fill with air and the diaphragm contracts.
You will notice your belly expands like a balloon filling up with air as you breathe in and then deflates like a balloon losing air as you breathe out. Belly breathing can help calm us by slowing down our breathing, reducing our heart rate, and encouraging the body’s relaxation response.
Start by practicing belly breathing while you and your child are relaxed. You can follow these simple steps to get started:
- Lay on your back and encourage your child to lay on their back.
- Have your child put their hands on their belly.
- Breathe in for 4-5 seconds and encourage your child to notice how their belly expands as they inhale.
- Ask your child to hold their breath for about 3 seconds and then slowly exhale while noticing their belly deflate.
- Continue this method of breathing until your child says their body feels relaxed.
- Talk with your child about what they noticed during the belly breathing exercise.
Written by: Mary Anne Sylvester