One Piece of Advice From a Pediatric Therapist That Will Change Your Day

Guest Post by Jamie McGrew, MOTR/LMom and Occupational Therapist

Take a deep breath

As a mom of 3 active boys and a pediatric occupational therapist, I sure do say this out loud and to myself a lot through a day! It has me thinking about what a powerful tool "deep breathing" is for adults and children alike. We are living in a fast paced, stressful world where teaching ourselves and our kids to calm/regulate/cope (whatever you like to call it) can feel like a big task. However, the simple act of working on deep breathing can create significant neurological and physiological changes while teaching an important life skill: creating calm within ourselves when faced with stress.

Scientific research tells us that slow deep breathing has an immediate impact on the brain, blood pressure, digestive system, immune system and even the expression of our genes. We also know that slow deep breathing turns on the "parasympathetic nervous system" which is the one that calms us down. It turns down the "sympathetic nervous system" which puts us into that "stressed" or "fight or flight" mode.

Today, I would love to share my favorite deep breathing activities that I use with my clients and my own kids. They are meant for parent and child to complete together, which can be a fun way to connect as well as calm together. Who couldn't use a little of that?! I would recommend working on deep breathing in a playful way during times of calm to practice the skill. It would be ideal to practice some of the deep breathing activities within your daily routine (in the morning, before bed, before a time of day that is challenging to child or family) to create a consistent practice. Once your child has been introduced to the deep breathing, help your child to use it when stressed or feeling big emotions. In these moments, I recommend you stay with the child, remain calm and quiet, and reiterate that you are there to help. Model the deep breathing in a calm and intentional way rather than verbally instructing them to do so. I have found that children learn to use the strategy and to self calm with this kind of loving support while allowed to express their emotions fully.

 

Try these 6 fun Deep Breathing activities!

Animal rides: Have child choose a favorite stuffed animal and lay on his back on the floor. Place the animal on the tummy. Model and instruct deep breathes by filling up tummy with air to make the animal move up high. Model and instruct to blow all air out to bring the animal back down. Practice taking deep breathes to keep the animal on "the ride" for as long as you can.

Dragon breaths: Cut out the bottom of 2 plastic or paper cups.Tape ribbons or strips of paper to one end of the cup. Model and instruct child to take a big deep breath in to fill the tummy full of air. Then, blow out all the air into the other end of the cup to create a BIG dragon breath. Repeat with a nice slow pace.

Bubble monster: Use a medium-sized bowl and fill half-way with water. Drop in one drop of non-toxic dish soap. Use straws or crazy straws placed in the water. Model and instruct to take a big tummy breath in and blow all air out into the straw to create a bubble monster. Model long, deep breathes to create the biggest monster.

Jamie's son playing Bubble Monster

Jamie's son playing Bubble Monster

Cotton ball races: Use straws and cotton balls on the floor or on a table. Instruct and model taking big tummy breathes to blow the cotton ball across the table or floor or to a finish line. You could work on more controlled breathing by using masking tape to create a path to move the cotton ball through.

Bubbles and whistles: Create a "breathing basket" by adding a variety of whistles, blow toys, party blow toys, and bubbles. Your child can choose one at a time to work on big deep breathes.

Sesame Street: Little Children Big Challenges App: This app is free! It has the child help a monster to learn to calm with deep breathes. It also teaches simple strategies for calming and solving problems.

Now, take a deep breath and enjoy those calm kids!

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