Kids sometimes need to take a deep breath to calm down.
But they need to be taught how.
As a teacher of yoga, and a public school educator, I know that kids can use breathing 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 breath. Just say the words “inhale” and “exhale” and see what happens! Noticing your breath is essential to mindfulness, and it is usually the first thing you work on when you learn to be mindful.
- 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.
- Start small. Be consistent, but start with just noticing breath, noticing calm feelings, and 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.”
Once you’ve built those foundational blocks, then you can focus on consistency and adding on more fun breathing techniques over time:
- Pause and focus on breathing 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.
- Name the option of using mindfulness if one child is distracting others: tell the class or kiddos to be mindful of their OWN work and bodies and thoughts.
- Cue a silent 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: How to Calm a Class or a Kid Using Mindfulness
Now, add in some fun and clever breathing exercises for kids to help them learn to calm down in any scenario
Here’s a video of some of these breathing techniques and how to teach them to kids effectively:
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 breath 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):
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.
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!
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 of the best breathing exercise for kids to help them 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 technique 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!
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.
You can tell them to imagine smelling carrots (or their favorite food!) Do it just 2-3 times.
Kids love this excellent technique 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 a great technique for breathing during savasana (resting pose) at the end of every class, or before bed. You can ring a chime to cue them to lay down, and once they are still and silent, 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!
This takes a bit of modeling ahead of time so they know what it looks like and how they should breathe to keep calm. It’s a favorite for sure though, and it works great!
We also read a lot of books about mindfulness and my favorites are all listed here.
Grab the Free Breathing Exercises for Kids to Calm Down Printable here:
Don’t forget to add in different forms of learning for all types of kids. These books are a great resource, as is the video above.
These are the best mindfulness books for teaching breathing exercises for kids:
For more mindfulness teaching techniques and lesson ideas, check out this course- Mindfulness Tools for Kids and Classes here!
Don’t forget to grab your free printable of the breathing exercises! You’ll get instant access to everything in my Free Resources Library.
Thanks so much!
(Post updated November 2022)