It can be difficult to teach young children how to calm themselves down in tough situations. One thing that research has shown is that slow, deep breaths help! There are numerous ways to help teach your child to take slow, deep breaths.
One of my favorites is called “Finger Breaths” or “Starfish Breaths” for younger kids. All you need for this is your own hand. Begin looking at your hand. Use your other hand’s pointer finger to trace up one side of your thumb, and down the other. While you trace your finger up, take a deep breath in. While you trace your finger down, exhale slowly. Continue to trace each finger up and down while breathing.
If your child is having difficulty using their own fingers to trace, you can try to sit them down at the table with a piece of paper and have them actually trace their hand with a crayon or pencil. Slowing, including the breathing, over and over until they are calm. Use only one or two colors–changing colors involves making a decision, which can add stress to an already stressed child.
The most important thing about this skill is that you practice it when you are calm! If you only have your child do this while they are upset, they will associate this activity with being upset.
Teach your child this fun activity while they are calm. Have them notice how their body feels calm and how everything is still when we breath slowly.
Tell your child when they start to feel upset, this is a tool they can use to stay calm. Make sure your child knows their body’s signs they are beginning to get upset so they can use this tool. For example, our faces feel hot and our fists usually clench when we begin to get mad. In addition, we start to feel something in our throat, and our eyes well up with tears when we are starting to get sad.
Finger breaths is a tool to use when your child is starting to get upset, not when they are already sobbing or having a temper tantrum.