If you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, work with children or just know a child then stop and take a moment to read this…
As more children and teens seem to be suffering with anxiety and panic attacks, it becomes more important than ever to equip them with the skill of using the breath to become calm once more.
Even if your child doesn’t suffer with anxiety or panic attacks it’s worth doing this with them. These are LIFE SKILLS people!
What I can’t emphasise enough is that you need to make this a regular practice. Don’t wait until anxiety has taken hold or a full blown panic attack has descended, ever tried teaching someone to take deep breaths during a panic attack? It’s like trying to teach someone to swim whilst they are drowning!
So, here are a few tips to help do this with young children – by young I would say up to the age of about 8 or 9 but this depends on understanding and maturity.
Ask your child to lie down – do this with them, there is nothing more powerful than a parent modelling behaviour. Choose a toy to place on their belly, it doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it’s not too heavy!
Encourage your child to take deep, slow breaths to make the ‘breathing buddy’ move up and down. This helps bring awareness to the breath and encourages them to take deeper breaths. Emphasise that the breath is to come in and out of the nostrils.
If this is really tricky for your child then see if you can get hold of some light fabric, these ‘silks’ are ideal…
Place the silks over their mouth and nose (with care obviously!!) This time you can ask them to exhale through their mouth and see if they can make it move. Once they can do this, progress to nasal breathing and perhaps to the breathing buddies.
Once they have mastered awareness of the breath you can work on taking deeper breaths.
Do this by counting as they inhale – perhaps to 4, but vary the number as necessary – and then counting as they exhale. After a while, if they are able to, you can get them to do the counting in their heads.
Try to practise this with them for five minutes a day, before bed or in bed is a great time. After a while they may develop their own practice without you!
Older Children and Teens
When approaching this with older children, particularly teens, you may experience a little resistance. Explaining the reason for it and the fact it is only for five minutes may help. If this fails then getting another trusted adult to do it with them may be the answer.
Older children may wish to lie down but there’s no reason for them not to be seated, whichever feels most comfortable for them. Bed time is a good opportunity for stillness and is often a time when older children feel more communicative or ready to relax anyway.
Ask them to place a hand on their belly to feel the breath coming in and out. After five or more DEEP, SLOW breaths encourage them to count to 4 or 6 on the inhale, then to the same number on the exhale. A long exhale is the key!
After some practise they may feel able to do the following:
Inhale for a count of 6
Hold the breath in for a count of 2
Exhale for a count of 6
Hold the breath out for a count of 2
With older children you might even want to talk about the mind wandering . Tell them that it’s ok for thoughts to arise, notice the thought, maybe label it (e.g. school, friends etc) and then return to counting the breath. Emphasise that we are NOT trying to empty the mind or push thoughts away – just to not become engaged by them. You could even liken the experience to sitting at a train station – trains come and go, you see them but you don’t get on any of the trains, you remain on the platform just observing.
If your child needs more help then I’m going to share the link to the breathing shape which I’ve share before and regularly recommend to adults and children…
Inhale as the shape grows, exhale as it shrinks. This one takes just one minute, there are longer ones too.
All this takes lots of practise! As with any skill it needs to be done regularly to get used to it. This goes for adults as well as children!
Do be aware that when the mind quietens, some repressed emotions and thoughts may rise to the surface that your child might want to talk about. Be ready to listen without judgement if this happens.
Good luck and remember to practise what you preach!