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Deep Breathing Exercises for Self-Regulation

What’s inside this article: The benefits of deep breathing exercises for children, including how they help with self-regulation. How to teach kids to do deep breathing correctly, activities, and printable posters.

Deep breathing exercises are an excellent way to self-regulate.

Continue reading to find out how deep breathing exercises help self-regulation, how to teach children to do deep breathing, and what the benefits of it are.

When we experience unpleasant emotions, our body responds – we start to breathe faster, our hearts start racing, we get knots in our stomachs, etc.

We can’t really control our emotions, but we can control our behavior and how we react to our feelings.

Our bodies and our minds are connected. That’s why there’s a physiological response to emotions. Deep breathing helps calm down the body by controlling the physiological reactions, which, in turn, helps calm our minds as well.

Benefits of Deep Breathing for Self-Regulation

According to the experts at Harvard, deep breathing benefits us in a few different ways. It regulates our arousal level, which helps us calm our bodies and achieve self-regulation.

Here’s how:

  • Lowers heart rate
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces the stress hormone, cortisol
  • Helps regulate body temperature
  • Forces you to slow down your breathing

How to Practice Deep Breathing Correctly

It’s not complicated, but it might feel awkward and unnatural to practice deep breathing at first. There is actually a correct way to do it, to get the maximum benefits.

  • Inhale slowly through your nose until you can’t take in any more air
  • Your stomach should expand, if you’re lying down, place your hand on your belly, and you’ll feel it rise.
  • Exhale slowly and completely through your mouth. Make sure you gently exhale, like you would if you were blowing on hot food.

How do you teach kids to do deep breathing correctly?

This can be a little tricky for kids, but it’s a great skill for them to know.

Kids will often breathe out really hard or go too fast, not engaging their diaphragm, etc.

Of course, practice makes perfect. Practicing deep breathing exercises daily with your kids will help them become experts.

Also, use visual guides your child can follow that encourages them to use the right technique.

7 Deep Breathing Exercises for Kids - Practicing deep breathing daily with kids helps them learn a very important skill for self-regulation. #SelfRegulation #CopingSkills #PositiveParenting

Practice Deep Breathing Daily

Before your child is able to do deep breathing exercises when they’re upset as a coping strategy, they need lots (and I mean lots) of practice when they’re calm and ready to learn.

Try doing deep breathing with your child for one-minute intervals:

  • When they wake up in the morning
  • After getting home from school
  • At the dinner table just before supper
  • During transitional times
  • When it’s bedtime

It would help if you then started practicing at unplanned times during the day when things are slightly escalated but not out of control.

For example, if the children are hyper, and you’re getting ready to leave the house for a fun activity – let everyone know that you can’t go until everyone has done one-minute deep breathing.

It might take a minute for everyone to settle and participate, but once they do, everyone will be calmer, and it will be much easier to move on with your fun plans.

Deep Breathing Exercises for Kids

There are lots of great breathing exercises and activities out there that kids can use. I’ve created a few posters that you can download and print, plus rounded up some other good ones I found online.

Square Breathing

I started with this one because it’s my favorite. This is the breathing technique that I use to help myself stay calm.

It’s part of the deep breathing posters package that I made; you can download it here.

Birthday Cake Breathing

This is another one from the posters package. Birthday cake breathing creates visual imagery for children learning the correct way to take deep breaths.

Pinwheel Breathing

This is a great one to practice with a real pinwheel. We tried to make our own pinwheels as part of an activity to do this – it was a total fail.

The idea is to get kids to inhale deeply and then, as they exhale, blow on the pinwheel and try to get it to spin as slow as possible.

To get the pinwheel to spin slowly, you have to exhale slowly. This activity is a great way to get kids to practice getting the speed of their breathing just right.

Figure 8 Breathing

This is the final printable poster from the package .

Children trace the figure 8 shape on the poster with their fingers, following the direction of the arrows.

Want All Four of the Posters Above?

Deep Breathing Posters

Five Finger Breathing

Five-finger breathing is an excellent co-regulation strategy because you and your child can put your palms together and trace them, doing the breathing with each other.

Co-regulation is an essential part of developing emotional self-regulation skills.

We keep the visual for this activity on the wall in our calming corner (pictured below). You can print your own on this school psychologist’s blog.

Deep breathing exercises for kids - Five Finger Breathing

Fall Leaf Deep Breathing Exercise

This is a cute one from And Next Comes L, which you can download here. She also has a free social story about deep breathing that helps teach children how to practice deep breathing correctly. Download that here.

This one would also be fun to make (with a real leaf) as a craft in the fall.

Lazy 8 Breathing

Lazy 8 breathing is part of the Zones of Regulation curriculum, which is a full social-emotional learning program for kids that teaches emotional regulation.

This is another one we keep hanging in the calm down corner. My son has also, on occasion, drawn the figure 8 on the palm of his hand to remind himself to practice deep breathing.

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