Breathing techniques offer easy-to-practice activities for building basic self-regulation in the body of youngsters and in your classroom. When you connect children to an awareness of how they are breathing and give ways they can change and manage their breath themselves, you give them a life-long tool for healthy self-regulation.
The Self Regulated Learner
Self-regulation is a critical competency that underlies executive function in two major ways: social-emotional (appropriate behavior in a social context) and cognitive (focus, academic learning, problem-solving). It is crucial that children learn basic self-regulation in early childhood because research indicates that children who cannot control their emotions at age four are unlikely to be able to follow the teachers’ directions at age six, and will not become reflective learners in middle and high school.
Self Control vs. Obedience
Self-regulation is not obedience or compliance but rather the ability to control and navigate one’s feelings, impulses, and behaviors. When children are self-regulated, they can both stop or start doing something, even if they don’t want to. They can delay gratification; think ahead; control impulses and consider options. Breathing techniques give children something specific to do to support themselves when confronted with the challenges of transitions, sharing, waiting, and re-directing impulses.
Kindergarten teachers rank self-regulation as the most important competency for school readiness. They find it more important than IQ or reading or math skills for social success and academic achievement. Unfortunately, early childhood teachers are also reporting that more and more children are coming to school dys-regulated or with low levels of self-regulation.
Breathing exercises are a first step in helping children enhance their capacity to monitor and manage themselves, so they can start to self-regulate sufficiently to feel successful in a school setting. Dr. Becky Baily, of Conscious Discipline, calls breathing the first step in any discipline encounter because it shifts children out of fight or flight mode.
4 Breathing Techniques
I suggest starting with Hissing Breath. This technique requires children to make a sound with their breath and to slow it way down, which is an effective way to develop awareness and control of their breathing.
1. Breathe in the nose, taking a long, deep inhale
2. and then exhale out the mouth on a small hiiiissssssssssssssing sound – like a balloon slowly losing air.
Go super slow and try to
make the exhale last 10-15 seconds or more.
Invite kids to slow their inner speed as they hiss.
Repeat several times so kids can feel how they can use
their breath to slow themselves down, mentally and physically.
is like giving yourself a big hug, and so wonderful for calming, centering, and soothing. It’s a tool I recommend using on a regular basis, before starting any new activity. It also works well when kids are feeling frustrated, overwhelmed or irritable.
1. Place one hand on your belly button
2. Place the other hand on your sternum in the middle
of your chest.
3. Take a deep breath and hummmmm while breathing out. Feel the vibration of the sound as you hum and let it ground your body and calm
is a fun, silly technique because you make a bloop sound on the exhale, like a fish. So, it’s sure to start some laughter, which is an effective way to disperse tension or over-efforting, and help kids not take things too seriously. Physiologically, when you inhale deeply, you pull in lots of oxygen needed by our brain and body to stay relaxed and alert. When you exhale completely, you make room for more which helps us release stress and recharge ourselves.
1. Take a deep breath through your nose,
2. Expand up your cheeks and …
3. Push it all out through your mouth …
Bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, blooooooop.
And again, deep breath in your nose…
Expand your cheeks
Exhale out your mouth …
Bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, blooooooop.
has the same hand positions as Humming Breath, but instead of humming, you have children move just their eyes (head remains still) slowly and together from right to left on the exhale. This movement facilitates improved eye teaming skills and cross-motor coordination. It’s a good tool for bolstering confidence and shifting to calm if kids are feeling anxious, fearful, or confused.
1. Place one hand on your belly button,
place the other in the middle of your chest.
2. Press your thumb and forefinger into the
soft tissue points beneath your collar bones
on either side of your sternum.
3. Inhale fully through your nose and then, as you exhale
slowly, move just your eyes from right to left.