Our breathing is directly related to our emotions. When we are nervous, our breathing is fast and noisy.
When we are calm, it becomes slow and harmonious. In tense moments, if we know how to control
breathing, we can react with serenity. How often do we want to calm ourselves but do not know how to
do it? How often do we want to concentrate but have a thousand ideas racing around our head? How
often do we want to sleep but the stress of tomorrow consumes our thoughts?

When we focus on the act of breathing, we stop thinking about the many various things that go through our heads at all times. In the belly and the chest, there are no emotions or thoughts: only the air that enters and leaves, and fantastic organs fulfilling their mission. Read on for breathing exercises you can practice with your child or teen that can help you both learn to control your breathing, and in turn, how you react to the world around you.

Breathing Exercise 1: Ocean Waves

This exercise focuses on abdominal breathing, which we all use during the first years of life. In this exercise, water is a symbol of purification and the destruction of the negative. Feeling like a wave from the sea allows your child to calm her respiratory rhythm.

How to Practice It

Your child stretches out with her back on the floor, her eyes closed, and her arms relaxed beside her body. Place a toy boat or other small, lightweight object on her belly and encourage her to imagine she is a wave in the sea. She can put one hand on her belly and another on her chest, to make sure that the belly moves and not the chest. By doing this, the air reaches the lower part of the lungs, dilating the diaphragm.

Breathing Exercise 2: Blowing Up Balloons

This exercise creates the need for a deep breath through blowing forcefully to fill up an imaginary balloon. When the arms extend, the ribs separate and more space is created in the middle section of the lungs so that air can enter. The visualization component also allows you to think of the lungs like a balloon that inflates and deflates.

How to Practice It

Have your child touch the corresponding fingertips of each hand together in front of his mouth, as if he had a balloon in the middle. Instruct him to take a deep inhale, as if he was preparing to blow up the imaginary balloon, and then exhale to start filling it with air. Then he can separate his hands a bit and take the second inhale and exhale, imagining the balloon getting bigger. The third inhale and exhale takes place with the arms more open, and so on until the imaginary balloon is full. Younger children can pretend that the balloon explodes and and say “POP!” After repeating the exercise several times, you can tie the last imaginary balloon to an imaginary thread, let it fly through the sky, and wish it well it as it disappears.

Sounds can help us to better feel our breath.

Breathing Exercise 3: Smell the Roses

The practice of smelling different scents uses olfactory evocations to achieve calm and fluid breathing.
Your child or teenager should imagine a smell that she knows well, and inhale as slowly as she can to open all the pores of the bronchi and the lungs. When she exhales through the mouth, it is as if she is returning the scent to its place of origin. This exercise works the imagination and the senses, because a scent is usually associated with a color, a tactile sensation, or a taste.

How to Practice It

Your child or teen closes her eyes and imagines different smells that she knows and enjoys. To achieve relaxation, the length of the exhale has to be twice the length of the inhale, with a pause in between. (There is even a specific “4,7,8” technique used to encourage sleep—four seconds of inhalation, seven seconds of pause, and eight seconds of exhalation.) When she exhales, your child can imagine that she has to blow on a candle without putting it out, scatter all the tufts of a dandelion, or make hundreds of soap bubbles.

Breathing Exercise 4: The Tree That Grows

There are many versions of this exercise—some more complicated than the one presented here—but all of them focus on taking a full breath. As the arms rise from the sides, the chest opens and oxygen can occupy the entire interior space. The breath happens, then, from the abdominal cavity through the thoracic cavity and, finally, to the clavicular cavity, so that we breathe with the totality of the lungs.

How to Practice It

Standing with his feet forward, knees slightly flexed, and arms at his sides, your child inhales while lifting his arms a little by his sides, and exhales in the same position. Then he inhales again as he raises his arms to shoulder height, and exhales again. Finally, he raises his arms all the way up and then, while exhaling, draws a big half-circle with his arms to return them to the starting position.

Breathing Exercise 5: Vibrate with the Vowels

Sounds can help us to better feel our breath. The sounds of letters, in particular, might vibrate in different parts of the body and feel distinct from each other. It can be very centering to notice how these different sounds affect us uniquely.

How to Practice It

Have your child sit in a chair. Instruct her to inhale deeply; during the exhalation, she draws out the sound of each vowel with a constant tone, trying to notice the place of vibration: U (belly), O (heart), A (chest), E (neck), and I (head). She can also exhale with consonants that offer more resistance to the exit of the air, imitating the wind (fffffff…) or a snake (ssssss…).

Breathing Exercise 6: The Wind That Breaks Up the Clouds

Since ancient times, visualizations have been used to induce relaxation or to imagine future situations and prepare a calm and positive response. This visualization aims to achieve a deep and rhythmic breathing, concentrating on the self and abandoning negative thoughts.

How to Practice It

Encourage your child or teen to imagine a stormy sky and name those dark clouds: fear, pain, shame, anger, envy, discouragement, etc. Have him blow forcefully and imagine how the words are dispersed, the letters falling one by one until a blue sky appears. Another variation is to inhale good words and exhale their opposite: peace enters, war exits; love comes in, hate goes away; joy comes in, sadness leaves; trust comes in, fear goes out.

To discover how breathing exercises can help your child or teenager become more mindful, try creating a basic breathing practice you can do together. You can also explore mindfulness books for children available from Magination Press.

Inês Castel-Branco Author by Inês Castel-Branco

This Article's Author

Inês Castel-Branco was born in Lisbon and lived for many years in a small city in the interior of Portugal that shares her name: Castelo Branco. She spent many vacations drawing in a notepad, discovering her own distinct methods of painting, and learning to take photos with her father’s antique Canon. At 18 years old, she went to study architecture in Oporto. Later, curiosity led her to study abroad in Barcelona. It was only supposed to be for a year, but she liked the city so much that she stayed another year to do a master’s degree, then a doctorate, and wound up doing a thesis on the theatre of the ’60s. During all of this, she founded Fragmenta Editorial with Ignasi Moreta, and so submerged herself in the fascinating world of the typography and layout of books.

Related Books from Magination Press

  • Breathe Book Cover


    by Inês Castel-Branco

    Breathe is a conversation between a boy and his mother at bedtime. But this conversation can happen at any time, in any place. This introduction to mindfulness presents a collection of illustrated exercises to help little ones become aware of their breath and their body. Includes a Note to Parents & Caregivers that describes the exercises and their effects in more detail.