Calming Breathing Techniques for Toddlers

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.
Calming breathing techniques for toddlers

How We Spent Winter 2016

Winter is my least favorite time of year even though it includes my birthday. Cold weather and gray skies get me feeling down and I find it harder to get motivated to leave the house. I do my best to enjoy the season, but once the holidays are over, I’m simply waiting for it to warm up. I enjoy being outside, but winters in northern Illinois make it difficult to enjoy nature.

The absolute best thing about the end of this year was getting pregnant with baby #2 and finding out we are having a boy!

Erin

Mom’s Groups

I joined another mom’s group this past fall and started going to more events this winter. I already belonged to one mom’s group, but the times that they met were not always convenient with my schedule. I like to work in the morning and take Norah to playdates around 11 am or after her nap at 2 – 3 pm. The new mom’s group has more options for later morning meetups and after school playdates. I plan on continuing to take Norah to events until she starts preschool in September. At that point, I’ll be bringing my son to the baby playgroups.

Reading

Since there’s not much else to do, I love spending time reading (especially by the fireplace) in the winter. This year I set my reading challenge to 53 books. I spent this winter reading the following books:

Nonfiction

  • Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace – 4 stars
  • Where am I Now? by Mara Wilson – 2 stars
  • How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell – 4 stars

Fiction

  • The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson – 4 stars
  • The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie Dawson – 3 stars
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman – 4 stars
  • Because I’m Watching by Christina Dodd – 3 stars
  • The Girl Before by Rena Olsen – 4 stars
  • The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena – 3 stars

Handlettering

Mike gave me a book on handlettering, some fancy pens, and paper for Christmas. I’m working on teaching myself. It’s harder than it looks, but surprisingly relaxing. I do too many activities that involve active thinking and this is something that is more physical. I would label myself as more crafty than artistic, but I’m pretty good at eyeballing something and copying the design of it. When Mike and I were dating, I baked a cake and carved it into a Batman symbol!

I hope to create some collaborative artwork with Norah and possible Mike. He’s very talented and majored in art during his first two years of college. Unfortunately, he almost never uses his drawing skills. On the other hand, Norah loves using watercolors and I’d love to add an inspirational quote or word over her artwork and frame it! Perhaps it could be something I could sell.

Norah

Playing in the snow

Although it’s been bitter cold, we haven’t had too much snow this year. Norah was able to enjoy one day of playing outside and sledding in early December. I look forward to her getting bigger and being able to enjoy the giant sledding hill in our backyard. I have a feeling my house will be a sledding destination for her friends.

Holiday celebrations and traditions

Norah is still the only grandchild (for now!) for both sets of grandparents so she gets spoiled during the holidays.

This year she was able to understand the concept of Santa and was talking about him for weeks. She also had her first Toys R Us catalog experience. She carried that thing around for several months, pointing out toys that she wanted. Mike’s work had a breakfast with Santa where she revealed that she wanted a “Shopkins house.” We had a last minute scramble to find one. The holidays only get more enjoyable as Norah gets older. It is so wonderful to experience things through her eyes.

Mike’s been doing Elf on the Shelf since I was pregnant with Norah, mostly to amuse me. Norah loved the book, but did not care for the actual elf. If he was near any of her things, she would throw him across the room even though I kept telling her she wasn’t supposed to touch him. We ended up having him stay in neutral places like the top of the fridge or mantelpiece.

She also loved the Christmas lights and would say they are “boo-ti-ful”.

Going to the library

Norah participated in the summer and winter reading club at the library this year. They have clubs for both readers and pre-readers. The pre-readers activities involved parents reading to the kids and showing them different stations around the library.

Norah loves the library, just like her mama. I have so many wonderful memories of being in the library as a kid. We go to the library at least once a week. We also try to make it to programs every few weeks.

Norah knows several librarian’s names and has a favorite librarian that she frequently asks about. This winter, one librarian was especially kind to Norah and let her come behind the desk and check in some books and then reshelve them. I’m happy to have instilled a love of the library in my daughter.

We’re looking forward to Spring and Summer when we are able to get out of the house more often. We’ll be spending extra special time with Norah before her world is rocked by her brother arriving in July!

How we spent winter 2016

We’re Reading 1000 Books Before Kindergarten

We love reading! Every week we go to our library and pick out a new batch of books to add to Norah’s list of 1000 books before kindergarten.

The 1000 Books before Kindergarten program

The 1000 books before kindergarten program encourages parents to read 1000 books to their children before they start school. The program promotes pre-literacy and literacy initiatives as well as family bonding.

Though the goal of 1000 books may seem huge, it’s very doable!

Why you should participate in 1000 Books before Kindergarten

Reading to your child strengthens their language skills and builds their vocabulary. Did you know that by three years old, a child from a low-income family will have heard 30 million fewer words than a child from a professional family? In addition, one in three American children start kindergarten without the skills needed to learn to read. Two-thirds of children can’t read proficiently by the end of third grade.

Reading to your child is a great way to prepare them for future success. If your family doesn’t have the means to purchase books, that’s no problem. Search for your local library and become a member, it’s free!

Reading aloud to children promotes brain development and helps build important language, literacy and social skills. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading to your child daily from infancy.

In addition to the educational benefits, reading to your child helps build a nurturing relationship and develops their self-esteem.

How you can participate in 1000 Books before Kindergarten

To participate, you only need to make time to read to your child each day. The sooner you start, the better!

If you start at one year old, reading 4 books per week = 1,060 books by kindergarten

If you start at two years old, reading 1 book per day = 1,095 books by kindergarten

If you start at three years old, reading 2 books per day = 1,460 books by kindergarten

If you start at four years old, reading 3 books per day = 1,095 books by kindergarten

 

How to read 1000 books before kindergarten

 

Most children’s books take less than 10 minutes to read. Even if you start when your child is older, you’ll only need to spend about 30 minutes per day reading. That’s the length of one TV show! If you replace one episode of your child’s favorite show with three books, you’ll be supporting their development and your relationship.

Reading doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Taking your child to story hour at the library counts too!

Find out more about 1000 books before kindergarten

Each library decides whether to participate in the program. Find a participating library in your area. If your library is not currently participating, you can suggest the program to a librarian or the library director.

My local library supports this awesome program. They recognize children who complete 1000 books before kindergarten by adding their name to a poster on the wall and giving them a prize. They also provide a notebook to record books read.

If your library doesn’t participate, you can do this initiative on your own by recording the books read on paper or in a Google document. If your child reaches 1000 books, you could take them out for dinner or buy them something special to celebrate the achievement. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to read to your child on a daily basis to set them up for success.
1000 books before kindergarten

How to Handle Toddler Temper Tantrums

From 15 – 20 months old, my daughter was the sweetest little thing. She would follow basic commands without any complaint. She would happily go along with any plan. She didn’t mind sitting in the grocery cart for an hour or two and she didn’t need to be entertained. Car rides were painless and quiet.

Shortly after she turned two years old, I saw a shift in her behavior. Suddenly, she seemed to realize that she had opinions and wanted to share them. If she didn’t want to do something, I heard about it. She would yell, cry, and try to talk her way out of things.

If I don’t meet her requests in a timely manner aka immediately, she will have a meltdown. Sometimes she’ll cry or whine while other times she’ll have a full-blown temper tantrum.

Temper tantrums are very common and are a normal part of growing up. They usually appear between the ages of 1.5 and 4 years old. They can include crying, screaming, kicking, biting and rolling around on the floor. Even though temper tantrums are a normal part of development, it doesn’t make them easy to deal with.

Here are some ways I deal with my toddler’s temper tantrums.

1) Offer options or solutions

Sometimes temper tantrums are over something specific. She wants a certain snack, toy or book right now.

If I can’t or don’t want to give her the thing she requests, I offer another solution to her problem. I tell her what her options are and let her pick the one that sounds best to her.

For example, if she’s demanding a popsicle fifteen minutes before dinner, I tell her she can have two mini marshmallows or an apple slice. Sometimes she keeps crying, but most of the time she picks one of the choices.

Offering solutions or options doesn’t always work or isn’t possible in some situations. If I’m in public or stuck on a long car ride, I will give in to her demands on occasion.

2) Distract and redirect

If the tantrum has not reached full-blown levels, I try distracting her. “Oh, look at this thing” or “I think I have something for you in my purse” usually works. Most of the time the thing in my purse is random – one of her hairbows or a box of Tic Tacs for her to shake. Sometimes I offer my phone for a set amount of time – usually 10 minutes –  so she can look at photos of herself or play on the PBS Go app.

If we’re at home, I redirect her to another activity or location. If she’s having a meltdown over watching TV, I’ll tell her we’re going to go outside and draw on the driveway with chalk. If it’s cold or raining, I’ll take her down to the playroom in the basement and ask her if we can have a tea party. Sometimes changing location is enough to stop the tantrum.

3) Talk it out

Most of the time I talk to my daughter in my normal voice. When a tantrum starts, I go into a serious, deeper voice.

If we’re at a restaurant and she starts melting down, I will say “Listen to me. We’re at a restaurant, we don’t do this behavior here. If you keep doing this, we’re going to go to the car and not get our food/lemonade/toy.”

Most of the time, if I remind her that I expect good behavior when we are somewhere, she behaves. I’ve explained many times that good behavior means eating her food, not throwing anything, and using an indoor voice.

I also use language that shows I understand her feelings. I’ll say, “You’re very upset. You really wanted to dance on the booth, but mommy said no. That’s really frustrating.” Usually, she will respond by echoing that she’s upset. At that point, I’ll try to distract her or offer some options for things she can do.

4) Comfort and hug

A little love and affection can go a long way when a tantrum is starting. I usually stay silent when I hug and comfort her. If I say anything, I’ll repeat “It’s OK, it’s OK” in a soothing tone. I’ve been comforting her with that phrase since she was born and it seems to work.

I can tell right away if she’s feeling upset and wants the comfort or if trying to hug her is going to make it worse. If she is not responsive to the hugs or pushes me away then I move on to the next option.

5) Let her cry

If I’ve offered a solution or option, tried to distract or redirect, talked it out, or offered comfort and she’s still throwing a fit, I let her cry. I tell her that it seems like she needs to cry it out and she can go ahead and do that for as long as she wants.

Obviously, this method is a little trickier in public, but ultimately I am not concerned with what people think about my parenting. They are only seeing one frame of the movie and that’s not enough to judge the whole thing.

As she’s gotten a bit older, she will say “I don’t want to cry it out” and get control of herself. We’ve also told her she can hug her “Sad Bunny” when she feels bad and the bunny will help her feel better.

The crying usually doesn’t last long especially if I act like I can’t hear it or it’s not happening. If the crying escalates then I try my last option.

6) Ignore her and walk away

**Note: I don’t do this in public. If the other options haven’t worked, we will leave or wait in the car until she’s calm.**

Finally, if the tantrum is epic, I ignore her and walk away. I start washing dishes, answer an email, or eat a snack. I go about my business as if I can’t hear the crying and screaming.

I only use this technique if all other options have failed. Sometimes she needs to work through her tantrum on her own. She has never cried, screamed or whined for more than 10 or 20 minutes while being ignored.

Toddler tantrums can be stressful for both child and parent. When your toddler throws a fit, work through these options. Keep in mind, the most important thing you can do is keep your cool and act in love. Adding your own crying or screaming to the tantrum won’t help. Your child needs help navigating his or her emotions. Guiding them in a loving way will set them up to better handle their feelings when they are adults.

How to handle toddler temper tantrums