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The use of breathing exercises for kids to help them calm down has been an absolute game changer in my teaching life.
Kids need to breathe to calm down!
As a person who deals with anxiety and stress (like so many!!), I truly know the power of a deep, cleansing breath.
As a teacher of yoga, and a public school educator, I know that kids need the same thing. During the 5 years in my current school, I have been steadily teaching my students how to use breathing exercises to practice mindfulness and calm down (on their own or with a partner!).
I remind them that they know how to breathe already, but that if they practice new ways of breathing they will get even better at!
Noticing your breath is essential to mindfulness, and it is usually the very first thing you work on when you learn how to be mindful.
If you truly want to teach your kids or students how to be mindful and how to help themselves calm down in the event of chaos or panic, I recommend these tips:
Mindfulness Tips for Educators and Parents:
- Start with yourself. Those who can do something well teach others by demonstrating, not explaining. You don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to be passionate.
- Start small. Be consistent, but start with just noticing breath, noticing calm feelings, praising small achievements. Aim for 10 seconds of quiet and calm. Then 30 seconds… and so on!
- Name the practice as mindfulness but explain it as “noticing” or “being aware”. Give kid-friendly explanations like, “I can feel my body start to slow down when I take a slow breath. I remind myself that I am right here, not wherever my brain is taking me.”
- Use it regularly and at varying times:
- Start and end every class with mindful listening and breathing.
- Use mindful breathing if the class gets too loud. We pause, listen to a singing bowl, and breathe.
- I often name the option of using mindfulness if one child is distracting others: I’ll tell the class to be mindful of their OWN work and bodies and thoughts.
- Cue a silent breath in the hallway just with your body actions to prepare them to come into the class.
- I will name my own feelings as being angry or upset and then I demonstrate taking a breath to calm myself down. This is HUGE for demonstrating self-awareness and encouraging it in others.
Check out some more tips in my post here: How to Calm a Class or a Kid Using Mindfulness
So, with those mindfulness tips, try these 14 different types of breathing exercises for kids or students! Pick one to focus on each day or a week, then move on to others.
Heart and Tummy:
This is one of the simplest mindfulness and breathing exercises for introducing where breath comes from.
Place one hand on your heart and one on your tummy. Sit up straight and take a few slow breaths in and out of your nose.
Notice where the breathe comes in and where it expands in your body. It helps to do this breathing exercise laying down.
I also use this after we have done some more vigorous exercises to help them notice their heartbeat.
Ball Breath (with Hoberman sphere):
I start teaching about how our body expands and contracts with an inhale and exhale. I use a Hoberman sphere to show this. But, with a class of 26 kids and only 1 ball, I let them pretend to have their own ball.
They spread their fingers wide and touch fingertips, opening their hands to a ball shape as we breathe in, then flattening out as we exhale. It’s surprisingly satisfying!
Imagine you are slowly blowing up a balloon. You don’t want it to pop so you go slow and steady. Breathe in through your nose and blow on your hands in front of your lips. They should start together, then slowly open up to form a balloon up above your head! You can choose to pop it or let it slowly fizzle down.
Blow out the Candles:
This is one the best breathing exercise for kids to help them calm down when upset angry. Hold up 5 fingers like candles on a birthday cake. Gently breathe in and blow them out one at a time, lowering each finger as you blow it out. For VERY upset children I sometimes hold up my own hand in front of them as candles because they can’t even get the focus to do it themselves.
I use this breathing technique for kids when we talk about sending heartfelt thoughts to people or animals that we love.
Hold your hands together in the shape of a heart in front of your heart. Breath in and grow the heart out bigger, then breath out and bring it right back to your own heart.
We talk about sending kind and warm thoughts out to someone in the world and then receiving them back again. (Like random acts of kindness!)
Another great calming breathing exercise. I use this in my classroom as a “take a break” spot. There is an outline of a hand on a poster on the wall. They place their own hand over the top and then trace around their fingers slowly.
Teach them breathe in as they go up, and they breathe out as they go back down. This can be done just holding your hand up in front of you too. Try to get them to do both hands to help that cross-body-brain-activation!
This is good for waking up tired kids! Sit on your knees and make “paws” with your hands in front of you. Take three quick inhales in through your nose, then one long “ahhh” exhale. I tell them to image smelling carrots (or their favorite food!) Do it just 2-3 times.
Kids love this excellent techinique for getting rid of excess energy or anger. Stand with your legs out wide, arms above your head like you are holding an ax for chopping wood (or a smasher for smashing apples… IDK what that’s called but the kids don’t either so, whatevs).
Inhale deep, and on the count of three swing your arms down and all the way between your legs, release your head and look behind you. You may bend your knees if you like.
Make a loud, powerful WHOOOSH sound as you do this.
Another one of our good calming OR energizing breathing exercises for kids. Imagine a slice of pizza on your hand flat in front of your face. Inhale to smell in the delicious scent; blow out slowly to cool it off so you can eat!
Sit on your feet in kneeling, hands making claws on your knees. Inhale deep, then stick out your tongue really far and make an “aaagggghhhh” sound. Not quite a roar, more like your clearing your throat and trying to roar, haha! But it’s more fun when you hold up your claws like a tough lioness!
You can even come up off your feet to a high kneeling pose while you exhale for more dramatic effect.
This can be done sitting, but it’s better standing up.
Start with your feet wide on your mat, toes pointing slightly out, then bend down to goddess pose or yogi squat.
Breathe in and out while rubbing our hands together really fast to get them nice and hot.
Then, on the count of three, we make a “whooshhh” sound as you rise up and press up (or explode!) into star pose. Take the variation that fits your kiddo’s mood or needs.
This is best done in cobra pose. We usually start in crocodile pose (head down) and pretend to be a snake hiding in the grass. We inhale and on the count of three press up to cobra and hiss out nice and long. Wiggling is encouraged.
Back to Back Breathing:
Partner breathing! This can get giggly, so try to only do it if kids are already calm or if they can pair with an adult. Sit back to back and try to notice each other’s breathing first. Slowly start to match breaths, and cue inhale-exhale if needed.
This is our breathing for savasana (resting pose). We do this at the end of every class. I ring the chimes to cue them to lay down, and once they are still and silent I pass them each a Beanie Baby (buddy) to place on their tummy. The goal is to help the Beanie Baby go up and down slowly on your tummy as you breathe and relax. They can keep their hands on their tummy if they like, too!
We also read a lot of books about mindfulness and my favorites are all listed here.
These are the best mindfulness books for teaching breathing exercises for kids:
I hope you enjoyed this round-up of Mindful Breathing Exercises for Kids! Let me know what else you would like to learn about or have resources for!
Don’t forget to grab your free PDF of the breathing activities! You’ll get instant access to everything in my Free Resources Library.
Thanks so much!
(Post updated January 2020)