• Catherine Spann, Ph.D.

10 Breathing Exercises for Kids

Updated: Apr 26

Whether you're a parent, teacher, caregiver, school employee, or cool aunt or uncle, we all interact with children at some point in our lives. Teaching kids how to use their own breath to regulate themselves is a great way to give children the tools they need to thrive.

Breathing is the only physiological function that we can consciously control. When we feel stressed or frustrated, we can soothe our own bodies and mind through conscious breathing. By the same token, we can use our breath to energize ourselves and refresh our minds.


As adults, we have an obligation to help children become aware of the power of their breath. When kids learn to breathe fully and deeply, they learn how they can take control over how they feel. The result is more regulated, focused, less reactive children.


Below are 10 breathing exercises to practice with children. Each exercise will be calming, energizing, or sometimes both. After practicing each one, ask the child to describe how their body feels, then ask them about their thoughts and emotions. Use this information to decide when it is best to use each practice. For example, if the child feels sleepy and very calm after an exercise, it may be best to practice it before bedtime. Alternatively, if the child feels energized and focused, it may be best to practice it before schoolwork.


Don't try all exercises at once, and don't introduce them when the child is in a heightened emotional state. Instead, practice them one-by-one during a time when the child is open and receptive to practicing their breathing. Forcing them to do it will only generate resentment and dislike of the practices. The best way to introduce breathing exercises is to practice them yourself and invite the child to join.


Have fun, be flexible, and don't take them too seriously. Breathing exercises should be fun and useful for everyone.


#1. Count Down to Calm


Benefits

  • Calms

  • Relieves frustration

  • Reduces anxiety

  • Encourages focus


Steps

  1. Sit, lie down, or stand tall

  2. Lengthen your spine and relax your shoulders

  3. Close your eyes

  4. Hold up one hand and make a fist

  5. Breathe in through your nose, lifting one finger at a time, counting 1, 2, 3, 4

  6. Breathe out through your nose, pulling one finger down at a time, counting 3, 2, 1, 0

  7. Repeat 5-10 times


Tips

The age and size of the child will determine how long to count. Younger children (2-5) may only be able to inhale and exhale to the count of 2 or 3 seconds. Older children (6-10) may be able to do 4 or 5 seconds. Adolescents may inhale and exhale to the count of 6. Start with 3 seconds and adjust from there.



#2: Power Breath

Benefits

  • Boosts alertness

  • Builds confidence

  • Energizes


Steps

  1. Stand tall with your feet as wide as your hips

  2. Inhale through your nose as you lift your arms out wide and reach up towards the sun

  3. Grab the sun's energy

  4. Forcefully exhale through your mouth and yell "Ha!" as you pull down towards your chest

  5. Repeat 3-5 times


#3. Balloon Breath

Benefits

  • Calms

  • Improves attention and focus


Steps

  1. Sit, stand up tall, or lie down

  2. Imagine your belly is a balloon

  3. Place your hands on your belly

  4. Close your eyes

  5. Breathe in slowly through your nose to inflate your balloon belly

  6. Stick out your belly to fill it all the way up

  7. Slowly breathe out through your nose and feel your balloon belly deflate

  8. Repeat 4-6 times


#4. Lion's Breath


Benefits

  • Relieves tension

  • Releases excess energy


Steps

  1. Place your knees and shins on the ground

  2. With your knees together, slightly widen your feet and lower your bottom to the ground

  3. Place your hands on top of your thighs

  4. Imagine yourself strong and fierce like a lion

  5. Take a deep breath through your nose

  6. Open your mouth, stick out your tongue towards your chin, and exhale while making a "Haaaaaa" sound

  7. Repeat 4-6 times


Tips

You can also practice this exercise seated or standing.



#5. Flower & Candle Breath


Benefits

  • Calms

  • Relieves frustration

  • Encourages focus


Steps

  1. Sit or stand up tall

  2. Pull your shoulder up towards your ears

  3. Release your shoulders down

  4. Clasp your hands in front of you

  5. Bring your pointing fingers together and point them up

  6. Imagine your fingers are a beautiful flower

  7. Smell the flower by taking a deep breath through your nose

  8. Imagine the flower turned into a candle

  9. Purse your lips

  10. Slowly and gently blow out your candle through your mouth

  11. Repeat 3-5 times


Tips

Emphasize a long, slow exhale. You want the flame to slowly flicker out to enhance the calming effect of this practice.



#6. Back-to-Back Breathing


Benefits

  • Promotes connection

  • Calms

  • Encourages breath awareness


Steps

  1. Sit back-to-back with a partner

  2. Feel the warmth of the other person's back

  3. Encourage the child to breathe in and out of her nose

  4. Say "breathe in, 2, 3, 4" while inhaling

  5. Say "breathe out, 2, 3, 4" while exhaling

  6. Repeat as desired


Tips

You can do it with the child or instruct two children while they do it together. This is great any time you need calm and connection, especially before bedtime, sharing time.



#7. Alternate Nostril Breathing


Benefits

  • Calms

  • Reduces anxiety

  • Clears the mind

  • Improves focus and attention


Steps

  1. Sit or stand tall

  2. Keep your mouth closed throughout the exercise

  3. Take your right hand and place your thumb over your right nostril to close it

  4. Breathe in to the count of four

  5. Take your middle finger on the same hand and plug your left nostril

  6. Release your thumb

  7. Breathe out to the count of four

  8. Breathe in to the count of four

  9. Take your thumb and plug your right nostril again

  10. Release your middle finger

  11. Breathe out to the count of four

  12. Breathe in to the count of four

  13. Take your middle finger and plug your left nostril

  14. Release your thumb

  15. Breathe out to the count of four

  16. Breathe in to the count of four

  17. Repeat until desired


Tips

This is an advanced breathing practice for older children, adolescents, and adults. To practice with younger children, simply plug one nostril at a time with either hand and take 1-3 deep breaths.



#8. Flying Bird Breath


Benefits

  • Calms

  • Reduces anxiety

  • Promotes body awareness


Steps

  1. Sit or stand tall

  2. Close your eyes

  3. Imagine you are a bird with large wings

  4. As you breathe in, lift your arms out wide, palms up, and lift up above your head

  5. Touch your palms together above your head

  6. Turn your palms down and breathe out slowly as you lower your arms

  7. Repeat until desired


#9. Moving Breath


Benefits

  • Improves focus and attention

  • Calms and centers

  • Clears the mind


Steps

  1. Sit or lie down

  2. Close your eyes

  3. Take a deep cleansing breath

  4. Breathe in through your nose and take all of your attention to the top of your head

  5. Breathe out through your nose and move your breath to the bottom of your feet

  6. Breathe in and feel the breath move up to the top of your head

  7. Breathe out and move the breath down to the bottom of your feet

  8. Breathe in and up to the top of your head

  9. Breathe out and down to the bottom of your feet

  10. Repeat until desired



#10. Bumble Bee Breath


Benefits

  • Encourages inward focus

  • Calms and centers


Steps

  1. Sit or stand tall with your shoulders relaxed

  2. Breathe in slowly through your nose

  3. Breathe out while saying "hmmmmm" as long as possible

  4. Close your eyes

  5. Breathe in slowly through your nose

  6. Exhale and repeat the "hmmmmm" sound as long as possible

  7. Cover your ears with your hands

  8. Breathe in slowly through your nose

  9. Exhale while making the "hmmmmm" sound as long as possible

  10. Repeat as desired


Tips

Once the child is comfortable with the "hmmmmm" sound, try other sounds like "zzzzzz"or "ssssss."


Be well,

Catherine

©2020 by Catherine Spann, Ph.D.