From anger to anxiety to stress, so many clients deal with problems that are improved by the use of deep breathing and relaxation. No wonder it is one counselling technique that therapists find themselves using over and over again.
Kids and teens regularly present with these same challenges. Deep breathing is an easy way to produce a vast improvement in symptoms. Trouble is kids and teens are often not overly interested in learning about deep breathing. For kids the concept is boring. For teens, not only is it boring, but it can seem hokey.
Here are 5 ways you can teach kids deep breathing:
1) Bubbles/Bubble Gum:
Have a bubble blowing contest (you will want to make sure that the client can actually blow bubbles with her gum first). Talk about how you blow the biggest bubble possible (i.e., make making a slow, even exhale). Quick huffs like we make when we are feeling upset do not work. Explain that when she is feeling anxious, worried, or angry, she can help herself feel calm by purposely taking slow, deep breaths, like she would do if she were blowing up a big bubble.
Use the same explanation as the bubble gum method. Have the client practice trying to blow up the balloon with short panicky breaths. Then show and discuss how long, gradual exhales into the balloon help to blow it up. Explain how this kind of breathing can also help her feel better when upset.
3) Stuffy on belly:
Have your client pick out a stuffy toy from your therapy supplies. She could also bring her own in to use. Ask her to lie down on a couch or on the floor. Explain that when we are anxious or angry we take shallow breaths from our chests. Take some shallow breaths together and talk about how it feels. Discuss whether this kind of breathing makes her feel calm and relaxed or anxious and jittery. Explain that she can help herself feel better when she is upset by purposely taking slow, deep breaths, deep down into her belly. Then explain that the stuffy is there to help her by sitting on her tummy. When she is breathing deeply, she should be able to see the stuffy rise with her breath. The stuffy should then fall when she breathes out. If the stuffy does not move,
4) Birthday cake:
If you have access to a kitchen, your client may enjoy making up a cake mix with you. Otherwise, bring in a cake with a bunch of candles. Ask her to show you how she would blow out all the candles on her birthday cake. Discuss how a quick puff might work if there was only on candle on her cake, but if there are lots of candles, she needs to take a deep breath in and breathe out slowly to get the most candles. Explain how this kind of breathing can help with her feelings.
You will need some paint, some cardstock or thicker paper, and some straws for this activity. Have the client pick some paint colours and then place a few blobs onto the paper. Give her a straw and practice using deep breathing to spread the paint around on the page. Explain how deep breathing helps with managing difficult feelings. When you are finished, she can take her artwork home as a reminder to breathe deeply when she is upset.
These are some of the methods I’ve used to teach deep breathing techniques to kids. What methods have you had success with?