One of the tools in my parenting bag is deep breathing. Breathing techniques are a great way to divert your toddler’s attention and help them calm down.
I’ve used deep breathing for many years to calm myself. I find that I don’t breathe enough when I’m stressed, nervous, angry, or sad. When I’m feeling those emotions, I notice my breath becomes shallow and quick or that I hold my breath.
Since breathing deeply works well for me, I wanted to share this tool with my daughter.
Why should you breathe deeply when you’re upset
Deep breathing has many benefits including:
- Reducing anxiety and depression
- Lowering and stabilizing blood pressure
- Increasing energy levels
- Relaxing muscles
- Decreasing stress
- Boosting your immune system
Breathing deeply activates the parasympathetic nervous system and can reverse the stress response in your body. Breathing techniques can slow down your heart rate and help calm your body and mind.
Breathing techniques to try with your toddler
There several different methods for deep breathing that you can try.
- Square or box breathing
Square breathing is the technique of inhaling on a four count, holding it for four counts, then exhaling on a four count, and waiting for four counts before inhaling again.
- Belly breathing
Belly breathing is a technique where you lie on the floor with your knees up and place your hands on your stomach. You inhale and exhale through your nose and bring the breath into your belly instead of your chest. You can also do this exercise while standing. Sesame Street has a great song about belly breathing featuring Elmo.
- Alternate nostril breathing
Alternate nostril breathing involves blocking one nostril while inhaling and exhaling and holding both nostrils for a moment at the top of an inhale. This a more advanced technique for older children and adults.
How to teach your child deep breathing techniques
This is a skill that you’ll want to practice when your child is in a good or neutral mood. You don’t want to try to tell them to “take a breath” when they are already in distress or crying.
When your child is relaxed and attentive, tell them that you want to teach them something that will help them when they are upset, angry or crying. I call it a “calm down” activity.
Tell them to follow your lead by breathing in then blowing out the breath. Once you’ve done it a few times and they have the concept down then you can try counting the breaths in and out and aiming for a 1-2-3-4 in and 1-2-3-4 out breath.
I started doing this with Norah when she was in her more agreeable 15-18 month old phase. It was already firmly engrained in her mind once she hit the tantrum stage.
Using deep breathing during difficult times
Once your child has the concept down, you can try it when they’re having a difficult time. Next time they are crying, screaming, etc. say “Let’s take some breaths”. They may resist. You should start doing the breathing exercises anyway. They may join you, they may not.
If you continue to do these exercises in front of them when they are upset, they may eventually try them. Once they do, make sure to praise them. Ask them if they feel better afterwards and tell them that deep breaths always help you feel better.
Breathing techniques in other situations
I also use this method when my daughter is overly excited or scared. I have her sit in my lap and we do some deep breaths until she is calm.
I also found it helpful to do deep breaths when my daughter was potty training. Breathing would take her focus off trying to go to the bathroom. She’d usually end up peeing or pooping while she was breathing without really noticing it.
Breathing techniques can be very beneficial for both parent and child. If you child is having a difficult time and you are getting frustrated, try doing some breathing exercises before dealing with their issue. Breathing will help center you and keep you calm. Your positive example will help your child learn this self-soothing technique that they can use for the rest of their lives.