Updated: February 2, 2023
By Heidi Nechtman, Pretzel Kids teacher
Kids are stressed.
Between peer pressure, getting ready for summer break, worries about standardized tests, concerns about the next back-to-school season, and social isolation experienced during the pandemic, it’s no surprise that children and teens are experiencing high anxiety.
As the saying goes, you just look at them and sigh….
But did you even think that there may be more to that sigh than you know?
Sighing, in fact, is a natural breathing technique that helps to calm and refocus you. Sometimes, though, nature’s breathing techniques just aren’t enough for our youth. But here’s the good news: YOU can help stressed out children learn breathing techniques so that THEY can help themselves!
What’s more, calming breathing exercises for kids will help them for a lifetime. (Bonus: YOU can use these techniques for yourself by referring to this article on 5 Ways Breathing Exercises Help You Stay Calm!)
Read on to learn the best calming breathing exercises for kids!
Yoga breathing techniques
If you’re looking for relaxing breathing techniques, why not incorporate mindful breathing into your yoga practice with children?
Here are some top breathing exercises – also called pranayamas – to calm down:
Belly breathing for kids
Belly breathing (or three-part breath) is something kids can use anywhere!
It is really simple but effective. Focusing on moving the belly helps children think about their breathing. Oftentimes, if you tell a child to breathe in slowly, they will still think about whatever made them upset in the first place. With belly breathing, however, they have to focus on their belly and their breath.
To practice belly breathing, ask your child to lay down or sit in a comfortable position, and then put their hands on their stomach. For little kids, it’s fun to put a stuffed animal on their belly.
You may want to sit or lay next to them. From there, calmly direct them to focus on their breath and say “Breathe in slowly and feel your belly rise. Breathe out and feel your belly fall.” Tell them to empty their belly of air. You will be amazed at how quickly this helps them calm down!
Visual breathing exercise
Some kids have trouble stopping the swirling “monkey brain” long enough to focus on their breath. In this case, you may want to use visual breathing exercises.
Visual breathing exercises can be as simple as imagining a color following their breath or having the child “watch” their breath as it goes in and out of their body. For a more detailed visual, tell them a story and have them close their eyes and imagine along with it. Include breathing techniques as a part of the story. You may find that they love these pranayamas so much they ask for them!
Deep breathing exercise for kids
Slow, deep breathing is key to slowing down kids’ nervous systems.
Belly breathing and visual breathing definitely work, but sometimes you need to encourage the kids to focus on how deeply they are inhaling and exhaling.
So, try this balloon breath activity. First, have them sit in a comfortable position. When they inhale, they can pretend they are a balloon filling up with air, moving their hands above their head and slowly rising up onto their feet. When they reach the top, they can exhale and let the air out of the balloon as they return to the ground.
These yoga movements take a little while to complete, so they will have to breathe really slowly and deeply. Not only will they breathe deeper with this exercise, but they may get a little silly too!
Mindful breathing for kids
Moving with the Breath
This breathing technique is great because it has all of the positive effects on the nervous system as the other techniques, but it also requires focus and for the child to be present. What’s more, it is simple. Just time the in-breath and out-breath with any movement.
If you are working with a child that has anxiety, this is a great technique. It allows them to focus inward, away from overstimulating sensory input. It also creates a vibration throughout the body that is soothing. For this technique, the child covers their eyes and ears, breathes in through their nose and out through a closed mouth, which creates a buzzing noise. Yoga is especially helpful to kids with anxiety or other special needs.
Another technique for kids that can’t stop the thinking brain is the mantra breath.
To do this, ask the child to pick two calming words and think about one word on the in-breath and the other on the out-breath. This is also good to use when in public and they just need a quick reset.
Simple breathing exercises
Looking for an easy breathing exercise that you can use right away to help kids calm down?
Here are some more top breathing techniques for kids!
Quick breathing exercises
If you need a quick breathing technique for in-the moment recovery or if you don’t have time to lay down and close your eyes, try one of these techniques:
Have your child count how long they can make their in-breath and then have them make their out-breath even longer!
Breath in through the nose while bringing the shoulders up to the ears. Breath out through the mouth and drop shoulders away from the ears.
Easy breathing exercises
For little kids or kids with anxiety, less can be more. If there are fewer steps, the breathing technique may work better for them. So give these breathing techniques a try!
Pretend you are blowing out a candle! Breathe in through the nose and see how many candles you can blow out.
Smell the flowers
In this breathing exercise, invite the children to pretend they are smelling flowers and sighing at the lovely smell.
Are You Ready to Implement Breathing Techniques for Kids?
Regardless of which breathing exercises for kids work best for you and your children (or the kids you teach), we hope you now have lots of ideas for yoga deep breathing, mindful breathing for kids, and meditation breathing exercises.
Keep in mind that whether you’re looking for breathing exercises for toddlers, breathing techniques for concentration or anything else – pranayama helps children of all ages calm down and feel more centered.
So, give these breathing exercises a try and we hope you – and the kids – feel much better afterwards!
About Heidi: Heidi Nechtman is a Pretzel Kids teacher in Tempe, Arizona. She’s passionate about sharing yoga with those that may not have access to it. Kids are one of those groups! She teaches littles, tweens and teens mindfulness and yoga at their level — and with lots of fun. You can learn more about Heidi here.