My son loves helping in the kitchen, but one day when my husband was getting dinner ready and my son was helping, things were not working well. My husband was getting frustrated and trying to manage the situation while my son was adamant about carrying on what he was doing, starting to cry and yell, “But this is my job!”
I knew some intervention was necessary and I was glad we had been learning some simple breathing exercises to calm an angry child. So I took a couple deep breaths myself and took my son to the other room to help him work through his frustration.
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“Take a deep breath” is often one of the first things people say when a situation begins to escalate. And deep breathing is a powerful tool for calming the mind and body. But children, especially those that struggle with anxiety or sensory processing disorder, often don’t know how to take a deep breath. It can be difficult for anyone in a stressful to use deep breathing as an automatic coping mechanism. So it’s important to practice these techniques in a fun way while everyone is calm. The more practice that happens during calm times the more automatic deep breathing will become during a tantrum or meltdown.
Simple Breathing Exercises to Calm an Angry Child
In our yoga class we often used deep breaths to spin a pinwheel. So when my son was upset during the cooking episode I held him, took deep breaths myself and told him to take a pinwheel breath.
There are several other fun ways to train the body and mind for deep breathing.
Pinwheel and wind chime- Using these visual and auditory sensory tools to notice tangible results of taking a deep breath can help with understanding the process of why breath is important and how powerful it can be.
Balloon visual– Talk about visualizing a balloon inside the child’s belly. Take a deep breath in through the nose to fill up the balloon and blow out through the mouth to let the air back out.
Bell ring followed by breath- This is another great auditory exercise that is also good for listening skills. Ring a bell or triangle and listen until the ringing stops. When the ringing is quiet you can use the balloon visualization to take a deep breath.
Bubbles- Getting outside and blowing bubbles will also be perfect for teaching deep breaths. Talk about taking a deep breath in through the nose before blowing out the mouth to blow the bubbles.
Belly Ride- While laying down place a small toy or stuffed animal on the belly. Give it a ride by taking deep breaths to expand the diaphragm making the belly go up and down.
Having a safe place to go to calm down can also help when teaching these breathing techniques. Using some visual and tactile tools like calm down jars and fidgets can help associate breathing with a state of mindfulness.
Books can also be helpful in teaching deep breathing techniques. So here are a few recommendations to add to your library!
Charlotte and the Quiet Place
Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family
A Handful of Quiet
Yoga for Kids: Simple Breathing Exercises
What are some of the ways you remember to stop and take a deep breath? Let us know which of these techniques work for you!
Amy is a former teacher turned stay-at-home mom and writer. She loves sharing what she knows about family, play and early learning. Away from the computer you can find her spending family time, organizing or decorating her home, reading a good self-help and occasionally pretending she knows how to cook but she usually leaves that to her awesome husband! You can find out more about her at Firefly Writing.