You probably already know how beneficial mindful breathing is, but teaching it and getting kids to actually do it in the long term requires some thought.

I’ve tried tens of different breathing exercises. I created a kid-friendly mindful breathing course, mindful breathing boards and even a mindful breathing picture book with Baby Shark for young children.

One of the most important things I’ve discovered, after trying more than 200 mindfulness activities for kids, is that kids want variety and choice. I’ll introduce two fun breathing exercises to give you variety in just a moment.

My son learned mindful breathing when he was one! He’s seven now, and we still do mindful breathing every single day. Like today at the parking lot when I dropped him off at school.

Today we both decided to pay attention to the breath at the tips of our noses – breathing in a feeling of gratitude. But starting with a bare-bones activity like this can feel overwhelming for kids – which defeats the point of calming breathing.

As adults we’re used to counting breaths or simply noticing the breath in our bodies and it’s okay. But if you ask adults you’ll find that many can’t say that mindful breathing is a lot of fun.

And let’s be honest, bare-bones mindful breathing isn’t lots of fun – it’s only when you notice the benefits of it that you start to want to practice and that can take a few tries.

So, if it’s boring and feels like a chore for us then just imagine how it must feel for children starting with mindful breathing.

Kids learn best when they get to play

Keeping mindfulness practice playful is extremely helpful. When you teach kids to do mindful breathing it’s best to start with simple, memorable and fun breathing activities.

Kids are so funny :-) It’s amusing how one way of doing mindful breathing is “boring”, another one is “stupid” but then amazingly a third way of doing it makes perfect sense to them and they do it like there’s no tomorrow.

One child likes to do “dandelion puff breathing” because it’s “not stupid” yet she feels that “snake breathing” is way too silly for her to do.

Thankfully it’s easy to show children many different creative ways to do mindful breathing and find something that works for them.

The science – Why mindful breathing is so helpful

I think Emma Seppala, Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, did a fine job summing it up on Harvard Business Review. 

Here’s what Emma Seppala and her colleagues say:

When we are in a highly stressed state, our prefrontal cortex — the part of our brain responsible for rational thinking — is impaired, so logic seldom helps to regain control. This can make it hard to think straight or be emotionally intelligent with your team.

Research shows that different emotions are associated with different forms of breathing, and so changing how we breathe can change how we feel. For example, when you feel joy, your breathing will be regular, deep and slow. If you feel anxious or angry, your breathing will be irregular, short, fast, and shallow. When you follow breathing patterns associated with different emotions, you’ll actually begin to feel those corresponding emotions.

Changing the rhythm of your breath can signal relaxation, slowing your heart rate and stimulating the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain stem to the abdomen, and is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” activities (in contrast to the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates many of our “fight or flight” responses). Triggering your parasympathetic nervous system helps you start to calm down. You feel better. And your ability to think rationally returns.

This is why mindful breathing is so empowering!

Slow down your heart rate and calm down your nervous system

When you inhale, your heart rate quickens. When you exhale, your heart rate slows down. Breathing in for a count of four and out for a count of eight for just a few minutes can help to calm your nervous system.

You can try this out yourself: when you feel agitated, simply make your your exhales longer.

Pizza Breathing and Hot Chocolate Breathing do that – they help children regulate their breathing patterns to calm their bodies down.

What makes the next two breathing activities special is that both help children make the out-breath longer than the in-breath and in this way regulate their breathing pattern.

Remember that children have smaller lungs which means that younger children will not be able to breathe as slowly as you do. So instead of counting to four and eight we can count to two and four. Like this: Breathing in—one, two. Breathing out —one, two, three, and four.

Okay, here’s probably the healthiest way you can do pizza and hot cocoa with kids.

Fun Mindful Breathing For Kids

Pizza Breathing

Purpose: Body awareness, Mindfulness of breath, Focus, Calm

Best for: Ages 3+, groups or one-on-one

What you need: Somewhere to sit

With “Pizza Breathing” we learn how focusing on a long out-breath can be calming. This activity is a great way to show how paying attention to our breath helps us focus and calm down.

I don’t know if your kids like pizza, but my experience has been that most do :) To make this activity fun you can start by creating your fantasy pizza.

1. Sit down and ask your children to pretend that they take a hot slice of their favorite pizza in their hands. You can serve the slices and have them cup their hands a little to receive the slices. You can pretend that your slice is super hot when you take one, too – for a few extra giggles.

2. Ask them to look at the pizza to see what’s on top. My fantasy pizza has pineapple, basil and three different cheeses.

3. Then ask them to smell the pizza with a slow in-breath. Tell them that it smells so good that they want to eat it this instant, but it’s still too hot. To cool it down a bit, they will blow on it with a long out-breath.

4. Ask them to blow on the pizza to cool it down a bit. Let them try it a few times, then tell them that they can make the out-breath even longer. Tell them that you will help them by counting when they breathe, like this: Breathing in—one, two. Breathing out —one, two, three, and four.

Breathe for 30 to 60 seconds like this. Adjust to their natural breathing rhythm and count: Breathing in—one, two. Breathing out—one, two, three, and four.

After 30-60 seconds tell them pizza is cool.

5. Then ask them to eat the pizza!

6. Ask them how they feel and explain that breathing on purpose like this can help their minds and bodies calm down.

I’m almost tasting the pineapple in my pretend pizza right now :-)

Hot Chocolate Breathing

Purpose: Body awareness, Mindfulness of breath, Focus, Calm

Best for: Ages 3+, groups or one-on-one

What you need: Somewhere to sit

With “Hot Chocolate” we learn how focusing on a long out-breath can be calming. This activity is very similar to pizza breathing but instead of pizza we will make a cup with both hands.

1. Sit down and ask your children to make a cup out of their hands and pretend it’s a delicious cup of hot chocolate. Again, you can pour the hot cocoa into their pretend cups, if you wish. Tell them that it tastes so good that they want to drink it this instant, but it’s still too hot.

2. To cool it down a bit, they will blow on it with a long out-breath. Let them try it a few times, then tell them that they can make the out- breath even longer. Tell them that you will help them by counting when they breathe, like this: Breathing in—one, two. Breathing out —one, two, three, and four.

Breathe for 30 to 60 seconds like this. Adjust to his natural breathing rhythm and count: Breathing in—one, two. Breathing out—one, two, three, and four.

3. After 30-60 seconds tell them that the chocolate is cool. Ask them to take a sip, and say “Mmm.”

4. Ask them how they feel and explain that breathing on purpose like this can help their minds and bodies calm down.

 

I hope you’ll have fun teaching mindful breathing!

 

If you liked these activities and would like to support my blog then you might want to get 150 playful mindfulness activities in my five-star rated best-selling book:

The Ultimate Mindfulness Activity Book – 150 Playful Mindfulness Activities for Kids and Teens (and Grown-Ups too!)

“The Most Important Mindfulness Book You’ll Ever Buy – Helen Hudson

 

Wishing you peace and joy,

Chris Bergstrom

Chief Mindfulness Ninja @ Blissful Kids

#1 Best-Selling Author of:
★★★★★ Awesome “Bought this book for my 6 year old, but even my 3 and 15 yo love the activities. We usually incorporate activities on a daily basis and it’s been working so far.”
★★★★★ Cute and calming “With the craze being all about baby sharks, it’s a great idea to take it and use it to help our kids calm down themselves. I’m a therapist and look forward to using this with my kid clients.”

See also:

Mindfulness With Kids — Wish On A Star — Kindness Practice

Mindfulness for Kids and Teens – Empathy and Loving Kindness Practice

Mindfulness For Children – Loving-Kindness – Sending Kind Thoughts

If you are new to mindfulness with children OR you want to make practice easy we recommend our online mindfulness courses and products.


Chris Bergstrom is a bestselling mindfulness author, a leader in the field of mindfulness, the founder of BlissfulKids.com, a blog dedicated to children’s mindfulness, 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 known as “the dad who tried 200+ mindfulness activities” and has taught meditation for more than 15 years.

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