You’re in luck if you’re looking for a fun way to teach and practice self-regulation skills with children using mindful breathing.
For the last ten years, I’ve been developing self-regulation strategies for children with my own son, parents, psychologists, and teachers, and we’ve discovered fun ways to teach children this important skill.
However, when I first started out, I received emails claiming that it was impossible for young children to learn self-regulation through mindful breathing—that it is simply too difficult to learn.
I agree, but only if we try to teach them in the same way that adults are taught!
Since then, I’ve proven it numerous times…
Now, I frequently receive emails from parents and educators describing how their two, three, and four-year-old children learn these amazing mindfulness skills at such a critical age when executive function is just beginning to develop. Your brain’s executive function is how you do things like pay attention, plan ahead and control impulses.
Benefits of mindfulness training on executive function
Learning to breathe mindfully is a valuable skill. Among school-aged children, mindfulness has demonstrated effectiveness to promote executive function skills (1). Specifically, the executive function skills of self-regulation (2) attention (3), and social skills (4) have been linked to mindfulness.
Executive function and self-regulation skills provide critical supports for learning and development, and while children are not born with these abilities, they are born with the potential to develop them (5).
According to the findings of one study on executive function and mindfulness, students who were taught mindfulness skills were better able to pay attention, regulate their behavior, switch between tasks, plan, organize, and monitor their responses than children in the control group. Teachers rated students in the mindfulness program as having better attention and concentration skills, as well as more prosocial behavior.
Teaching how to self-regulate, focus, and relax has been a game changer for many educators and parents, including our family. The best part is that learning self-regulation as a child is a skill you will have for the rest of your life.
My son has used mindful breathing since he was a year old and continues to do so now that he is eight. In fact, my son has used mindful breathing as a calming strategy to:
- Focus better at school when nervous
- Act despite and to overcome fears
- Deal with bullies
- Maintain focus during sports to improve performance
- Stop feeding at night by the age of two (true story!)
- Flush his nose repeatedly when he was only one, despite being afraid for his life
- Be courageous and successful despite his self-doubts
- Fall asleep when it was hard to do so
- Calm down when in a state of panic
And the list continues :-) Most importantly, it is not just me and my son who are up to the task! My readers and students who use our simple methods consistently give me positive feedback.
Our favorite kid-friendly self-regulation strategy
Slow-paced mindful breathing is the most useful calming strategy for children, based on what I’ve observed over the last ten years, for four reasons:
1. Slow-paced breathing has an immediate physiological effect, affecting the child’s nervous system and heart, allowing their body and mind to relax.
2. Mindful breathing has a mental effect, giving their brain a new task to focus on instead of the perceived problem. 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.
3. You can make practice fun and engaging, even if many don’t know how.
4. Anyone can do it anywhere, and even secretly.
How *NOT* to teach mindful breathing to children
According to a recent Stanford study, even a few slow, deep breaths can reduce children’s physiological arousal. It was pointed out, however, that children require scaffolding and that telling them to “take a deep breath” may not be enough because it is not intuitive for young children, and that children are more successful if they have a visual guide (6).
What this means is that slow-paced mindful breathing itself can significantly alter a young child’s physiological stress response, but if you ask a young child to simply take a deep breath, many don’t know how to slowly pace their inhale and exhale if they haven’t had any training.
Kids rarely want to sit still and those children who don’t love the idea of sitting still will be excluded unless you make the activity tangible, tactile and visual.
This is why I’ve made mindful breathing tangible, tactile, and visual so that it’s actually kid-friendly and fun—and this has been our secret to success.
I wish I had known this when I started out …
Two methods to make learning self-regulation skills fun for kids
This is how you make learning self-regulation and mindfulness fun for children.
I’ll show you two of our favourite visual and tactile slow-paced mindful breathing tools including: moving mindful breathing and breathing games. All tried-and-true engaging activities that you can start using right away for quick results.
The reason these work so well is that they help:
- Make children interested and keep their attention.
- Provide a simple method for calming high-arousal states.
- Activate children who don’t like to sit still or “meditate”.
- Make practice engaging, memorable, enjoyable and consistent.
This is probably the simplest method for teaching calming mindful breathing to children of all ages…
1. Breathing Games
You can purchase our tried and tested printable games and stories, or you can draw your own.
Children can easily learn to use them on their own when they struggle and want to feel better. It takes just a minute to play the game and it’s easy to learn.
Here are two examples, picked from our 74 fun mindful breathing games.
This Breathing Game is designed for younger children and comes with a short story. It’s called Busy Bees and it’s one of my favourites because you get to breathe in the scent of flowers and exhale buzzing like a busy bee… bzzz…
Try it out right now on the screen for a smile :)
1. Inhale slowly while tracing the blue flowers with your pointer finger and pretending to smell them.
2. Slowly exhale, buzzing like a little bee and tracing the red flowers with your finger.
I promise it will make you buzz with positive energy.
And here’s one more example of a breathing game for an older audience: The Hoop Loop.
1. Simply inhale slowly while tracing the blue balls in the direction of the blue arrows with your pointer finger.
2. Slowly exhale, tracing the red balls with your finger.
Happy mindful breathing!
You simply pick a game or a story to engage children. You allow the kids to play by tracing shapes while breathing in and out. AND you develop self-regulation and mindfulness skills. It’s engaging, playful and quick to do. And children can use the games on their own, too.
Now, if you like the idea you can draw something similar or get our games if you wish. Our breathing games and stories are heavily discounted today so you might want to check them out right now. You can click here for your one-time 64% off discount.
Here are four recent testimonials:
“I love these breathing games and stories for kids. I work at an elementary school and there is something here for every interest. The games are very cute and inviting to the children. I also love the coloring sheets for students to make it their own.”
– Stefanie, Educator
“Using the games has helped my son to learn how to breathe and calm down when he is anxious. I think they are awesome.”
– Jenny, Parent and Educator
“A much more relaxed and productive class than before. Genius!”
– Christine, Mindfulness teacher
“The breathing games are a wonderful way to help remind kids, in a fun and engaging way, how to do mindful, slow and steady breaths.”
– Taylor, Educator
2. Playful Moving Mindful Breathing
Incorporating large motor activity into the mix is another fantastic way to help children learn slow-paced mindful breathing. This is ideal for children who dislike sitting still.
Here’s a short animated GIF demonstrating one moving mindful breathing activity from my 50-minute video mini-training that helps you make mindful breathing fun and active with 15 moving mindful breathing activities and 25 printable breathing cue cards.
This one is called bird breathing, it helps kids learn to breathe slowly and deeply while pacing their body movement mindfully with their breathing cycles.
If you’re interested in learning from me and my son (he is the one teaching above) then consider getting the online video mini-training. It’s on sale right now and you can click here for your one-time discount and to learn more if you’re interested.
Here’s the full script for Mindful Bird Breathing that you will get from the training, too.
** Script starts **
Pretend to be your favorite bird.
I like to pretend to be a green parrot, how about you?
Okay, let’s try it out.
Breathe in, and raise your wings,
breathe out and you lower your wings.
Pretend to be a bird, breathe in and spread your wings,
breathe out and lower your wings.
Breathe in and raise your wings,
breathe out and lower your wings.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Breathe in and raise your wings,
breathe out and lower your wings.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Good job, how did it make you feel?
** End of script **
I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, and here are four examples:
“I was already pretty well versed on mindfulness and mindful breathing, but I loved having specific kid-oriented activities to make it more accessible to a younger audience.”
– Amanda Mercer, Licensed Professional Counselor
“This course has really opened my eyes to the numerous simple, joyful, and easy to follow mindfulness tools for helping children. I feel more confident in sharing these mindful breathing exercises for children at both home and school environments!”
– Vanessa, Mom and Early Childhood Educator
“I feel empowered to work with children, and also feel empowered that I can device more such activities and techniques over time, building on my own experience as I work.”
– Kavita, Educator
“This course showed me how easy it is to get kids to practice mindfulness and belly breathing in order to calm themselves down!”
– Stephanie H., Educator
Okay, I hope you learned something new and that I was able to assist you in helping your children.
Empowering children with valuable life skills is how we begin to build a better world, and I am proud to be able to undertake this journey with you.
Thank you for your commitment to supporting and empowering children.
Founder of Blissful Kids
PS: You can download my free ebook with 5 Calming Mindful Breathing Activities here.
Chris Bergstrom is a bestselling mindfulness author, a leader in the field of mindfulness, and the founder of BlissfulKids.com, a community of parents, educators, and therapists dedicated to children’s mindfulness and psychology, with over 15 years of experience facilitating meditation and psychological interventions to people of all ages.
Chris is a certified mindfulness facilitator, trained to teach mindfulness to students in K-12, and has received psychology and mindfulness training from UPenn, UCLA, UNC, Mindful Schools, and Mindfulness Without Borders.
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(4) Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness training for elementary school students: The attention academy. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21, 99-125. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J370v21n01_05. Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Lawlor, M. S. (2010). The effects of a mindfulness-based education program on pre-and early adolescents’ well-being and social and emotional competence. Mindfulness, 1(3), 137-151. https://doi.org/10.1007/ s12671-010-0011-8. Viglas, M., & Perlman, M. (2018). Effects of a mindfulness-based program on young children’s self-regulation, prosocial behavior and hyperactivity. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 27(4), 1150-1161. doi:10.1007/s10826-017-0971-6.
(5) Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2014). Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.
(6) Obradović J, Sulik MJ, Armstrong-Carter E. Taking a few deep breaths significantly reduces children’s physiological arousal in everyday settings: Results of a preregistered video intervention. Dev Psychobiol. 2021 Dec;63(8):e22214. doi: 10.1002/dev.22214. PMID: 34813098.