Kids sometimes need to take a deep breath to calm down. Deep breathing helps to relieve anxiety, reduce stress, and help us relax. Kids can learn breath control, for deep breathing.
But they need to be taught how.
As a teacher of yoga, and a public school educator, I know that kids can use deep breathing exercises to help them calm down in stressful situations. But they need to learn how first.
During the five years in my current school, I have been steadily teaching my students how to use breathing exercises for kids to practice mindfulness and calm down (on their own or with a partner!).
Here are the top tips for teaching kids how to take deep breaths to calm down:
- Start when kids are calm. There is no point in teaching them something new when they are in a heightened state of anxiety or frustration. They won’t retain the information, even if they do manage to follow directions (which they probably won’t!).
- Begin to focus on your noticing your current breathing pattern. Just say the words “inhale” and “exhale” as you breathe and see what happens!
- Teach them to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth so they don’t suck in air like a sugar-filled slurpee through a straw. Keeping your mouth closed while you inhale is makes a big difference in breath focus.
- Start small. Be consistent, but start with just noticing normal breathing, noticing stillness, and praising small achievements. Aim for 10 seconds of quiet and calm breath exercises. 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 deep breaths. I remind myself that I am right here, not wherever my brain is taking me.”
Once you’ve built those foundational blocks, then you can focus on consistency and adding on more deep breathing techniques over time:
- Pause and focus on breathing regularly and at varying times:
- Start and end every class with mindful listening and a few deep breaths.
- Use mindful breathing if noise levels get too loud. We pause, listen to a singing bowl, and a take a deep breath.
- Cue a silent deep breath in the hallway or a quiet space just with your body actions to prepare them for a transition.
- Name your own feelings as being angry or upset and then demonstrate taking a breath to calm yourself down. This is HUGE for demonstrating self-awareness and encouraging it in others.
Check out some more classroom-based mindfulness tips in my post here: Quick and Effective Calm Down Strategies for Kids
Now, add in some fun and clever deep breathing techniques to help them learn to calm down in any scenario
Here’s a video of some of these deep breathing exercises and how to teach them to kids effectively:
This simple breathing technique is the best way to practice deep breathing from the lower belly, or diaphragmatic breathing.
Place one hand on your heart and one on your tummy. Sit comfortably, but with a tall spine and relaxed shoulders. Inhale slowly and feel your belly rise and expand. Take a long exhale as your belly goes back down.
Notice where the breath comes in and where it expands in your belly. It helps to do this breathing exercise laying down. Younger kids will enjoy watching Elmo teach belly breathing in this video.
Ball Breathing (with Hoberman sphere):
It’s important to start teaching about how our body expands and contracts with an inhale and exhale. Use a Hoberman sphere to show this super effectively. When the ball expands, inhale deeply, when the ball contracts, exhale slowly.
If all the kiddos can’t take turns using the ball itself, teach them to pretend they have their own ball made out of their hands:
You can spread your fingers wide and touch fingertips, opening your hands to a ball shape as you breathe in, then flattening out as you exhale. It’s surprisingly satisfying!
Blowing up a Balloon:
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 palms pressed together 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 an excellent breathing exercise to help kids calm down when upset or angry. Hold up five 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, you can hold up your own hand in front of them as candles because they can’t even get the focus to do it themselves.
Use this breathing exercise for kids when you 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. Breathe 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!)
This is a great breathing technique, as well as a practice of fine motor skills. In the free printable 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 to breathe in as they go up, and they breathe out as they go back down. This can be done by just by holding your hand up in front of you too. Try to get them to do both hands to help that cross-body-brain-activation!
Click on the image to get a Free PDF on the breathing exericse!
This breathing exercise is good for waking up tired kids! Sit on your knees and make “paws” with your hands in front of you. Take three quick sniffs in through your nose with pursed lips, then one long “ahhh” exhale.
You can tell them to imagine smelling carrots (or their favorite food!) Do it just 2-3 times.
Kids love this higher energy breathing exercise 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 through your nose to smell in the delicious scent; blow out slowly to cool it off so you can eat!
Sit on your knees in Lion pose, hands making claws on your knees. Inhale deeply through your nose, 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! But it’s more fun when you hold up your claws like a tough lioness! Great for stress reduction!
You can even come up off your feet to a high kneeling pose while you exhale for more dramatic effect.
For this exercise you can either have a pinwheel ready, make one or just use your imagination. Hold the pinwheel in front of you and examine the colors. Breathe deeply and blow out onto the pinwheel to make it spin. Watch the colors fly and do it again for maximum stress relief!
Wind Sock Breathing:
This breathing exercise is great for visual learners and can also be used as a calming or energizing activity. Take a long tube sock, cut off the foot part and decorate it with markers or paint. Hang up the wind sock in front of you and take deep breaths while watching it sway back and forth.
Use this fun wind science experience to craft another colorful version of a wind sock.
This exercise is perfect for releasing tension in the jaw and face. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take a deep inhale in through your nose. As you exhale, make a humming sound like a bumblebee. Feel the physical sensations and vibrations in your face and relax any tension you may be holding there.
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 through the nose 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 one of our favorite breathing techniques to use during savasana (resting pose) at the end of class or before bed. Cue them to lay down with a chime, then give each a small stuffed animal to place on their tummy.
The goal is for the animal to move up and down slowly as they breathe and relax. They can keep their hands on their tummy if they like.
We also read a lot of books about mindfulness and my favorites are all listed here.
Hot Chocolate Breathing:
This fun breathing exercise can be done sitting or standing, connecting the mind and body. Have your child imagine holding a warm mug of hot chocolate.
As they inhale, imagine smelling the delicious scent. Then, as they exhale, pretend to blow on the drink to cool it down. Repeat several times for relaxation and focus in any situation.
Blowing bubbles is a fun way to teach deep breathing. Have your child take a deep breath in, then exhale slowly while blowing through the wand.
Watch as the bubbles float away, letting go of worries or stress. It’s a calming activity for bedtime or when emotions run high.
Teaching mindfulness and breathing techniques to children can greatly benefit their overall well-being. With these simple exercises, they can learn to manage stress, improve focus, and connect with their body and emotions.
Encourage them to practice regularly and model the exercises yourself for added effectiveness. Remember, it’s never too early to start teaching mindfulness and self-care to children!