Teddy Bear Belly Breathing also know as Breathing Buddies is one of my favorite mindful breathing exercises for kids. Belly breathing calms down the nervous system and is easy to do. Add a favorite stuffed toy and younger kids will get it almost instantly and find it fun to try out.
When I first introduced Teddy Bear Belly Breathing to my two-year-old he got so excited that he did the exercise every day for a full week. We had a lot of fun and I had the chance to introduce both mindful breathing (paying attention to your breath) and deep relaxing belly breathing to my son. Win win!
Teddy Bear Belly Breathing helps children to:
learn focusing skills,
and figure out that paying attention to their bodies helps them relax.
Why does it work?
The short answer:
1. When we concentrate intently on the now instead of our mind chatter, we eliminate a significant amount of stress and worry. We shift away our focus from our thoughts and emotions.
2. Deep belly-breathing signals the nervous system to relax, which then lowers stress and reduces the heart rate and blood pressure.
Even kindergarteners can do it
Mindfulness is taught to kindergarteners these days; it’s not a big deal. Even pre-schoolers can learn mindfulness skills and it’s beneficial for them.
One study showed that a twelve week mindfulness training (twice a week) aided preschoolers boost mental flexibility, empathy, and academic success earning higher marks on their end-of-year assessments.
“Belly Buddies” (aka Teddy Bear Belly Breathing and Breathing Buddies) was a favorite among the kids, according to teachers.
During this activity, kids listened to music while lying on their backs with a small stone on their bellies.
Their only instruction:
Pay attention to the sensation of the stone. Feel it rising and falling as you breathe in and out.
Lisa Flook of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, first author of the study, said that “It’s something that’s so simple and it allows them to experience internal quietness and a sense of calm”.
Flook concluded that “Knowing how critical these skills are at an early age, if there are ways to promote them, it could help set kids on a more positive life trajectory.”
Mindfulness For Kids – Teddy Bear Belly Breathing aka Breathing Buddies
Purpose: Calm, Relaxation, Mindfulness of Body
Best for: Ages 4+, groups or one-on-one
What you need: Comfortable clothes, ample floor space (or another place to lie down), a favorite stuffed toy.
1. To practice belly-breathing, ask your child to lie comfortably and place his hands on his belly (if he uses a stuffed animal, he can hold it on top of his belly if he lies down).
2. As you count to three, ask him to inhale deeply through his nose.
Tell him to fill his belly with air as he inhales; he should feel it get bigger and bigger and bigger throughout the count to three. If his stuffed toy sits atop his belly, he might see it rise as his belly “fills with air”.
3. Ask him to exhale to a slow count to four. Tell him he might see his toy fall as he feels his belly shrinking and shrinking throughout the count to four.
Do five to ten rounds of belly-breathing to get started.
When ready, ask your child how it felt.
Is there a difference in how he feels now?
What did he notice about the stuffed animal as he inhaled and exhaled?
How did it feel when he released the breath?
Repeat the process as many times as he likes.
When you do this with a younger child you can put on soothing music to help him keep calm for the duration. Another variation is to tell your child to pretend that he rocks the stuffed animal to sleep.
If your child has trouble focusing you can tell him to say silently “up” each time the stuffed animal moves up and “down” silently each time the stuffed animal moves down.
The same can be done without the stuffed animal, he can say silently “in” as he breathes in and silently “out” when he breathes out to help him focus.
Finally, when your child is comfortable with belly-breathing you can ask him to pay attention to his belly going up and down for a short while without your guidance. For example for the duration of a soothing song.
Amelia shows exactly what Teddy Bear Belly Breathing looks like:
Children belly breathing with breathing buddies:
Dr. Daniel Goleman explains the mechanics of belly breathing:
This is cool! Elmo shows the benefits of belly breathing:
I hope that your family will enjoy this proven mindfulness activity. May you be happy and healthy!
PS Have you tried mindfulness exercises for kids before? How did it work out for you? Let us know.
If you are new to mindfulness with children we recommend that you read our guide: How To Practice Mindfulness With Children – The Essential Guide
Chris Bergstrom is the co-founder of BlissfulKids.com and a dad who is thrilled to practice mindfulness with his son. He is a certified mindfulness facilitator, and trained to teach mindfulness to students in K-12. He’s also an executive consultant, and has taught meditation for more than 10 years.