When children become anxious or emotional, they often are not able to communicate how they are feeling. This leads to tantrums, over excitement, becoming withdrawn or crying. The behaviour they display comes out of the blue and can be exhausting or embarrassing for parents or those looking after the child.
Being able to prevent or minimise those moments, would not only be helpful for the carer, it would help the child too.
At the moment COVID restrictions are bringing tension to many households, as working and homeschooling is now happening in a place, normally seen as a somewhere to wind down and relax.
There are many ways to support a child when they are not feeling their best. Finding out what may be troubling them is not always possible, however teaching them simple skills they can use when overwhelmed may help. One of these skills is easy and free. Simple breathing techniques.
It is helpful to practice these techniques when the child is relaxed and calm initially, as they are more likely to understand and enjoy the experience. Set the scene carefully. Find a space that is calm and has little distraction. If possible outdoors, where it is safe and the child can sit or lie down. If this is not possible, maybe create a safe space that the child will begin to associate is their retreat, a place they can go to when they are overwhelmed. It could be a corner with cushions, pictures that remind the child of happy times (let them choose) placed on the walls, essential oils such as lavender, a blanket and favourite teddy!
Get the child to sit or lie down, join them if you can. Close their eyes if they feel safe to do so. Now get them to place their hands on their tummies. This will allow them to become aware of their tummies moving up and down when they breathe. Children naturally breathe into their tummies which is great to expand the lungs. It is something we do less of as an adult and is a good skill to re learn. Request they try and breathe only through the nose. This, you can explain, is to clean the air, warm the air for the lungs and is better to increase oxygen uptake. This may take a bit of practice, however worth persevering. Get the child to concentrate on breathing. Count the breath in for four, hold their breath for four, breathe out for four and hold their breath for four. Again this may take a little while to feel comfortable. If you are able to work alongside the child, they will generally copy quite happily. Repeat this five to six times. Notice if the child looks and feels calm. Suggesting that doing this, especially when we don’t feel great can help us feel better. If this can be practiced daily, when the child is calm, it will be easier to suggest, as soon as you are aware their behaviour is changing.
By doing the technique alongside the child you may be able to quickly change their state reminding them they will soon feel better.
If the child is allowed to retreat to their calm corner when they are not feeling great, they will associate it as a safe zone. You may begin to notice a pattern and link it with the reason for the child’s anxiety. This may help you to discuss what you have noticed once the child feels better and allow them to understand that their feelings are normal. It will help to reassure them.
Whilst technology is a big part of a life child today, especially as online learning is the normal practice for them at the moment, it can also lead to information overload. A child’s brain processes and absorbs information far quicker than an adult. They fatigue quickly too. We, as adults, are noticing how tiring it is to look at a screen for a long time. Taking regular breaks from any screen will help. Encourage the child to do something active like a little stretch or walk. Get them to practice being present. Ask them to sit still and look around them. Think about what they see, smell and hear. Then, get them to close their eyes and concentrate on what they can hear and smell. Generally they will notice different things because there is no other stimulus. This could be a good time to concentrate on breathing too, as they will be rested and calm.
If your child struggling either to go to sleep or have good quality sleep, creating
a wind-down routine may help. Removing any stimulus i.e. games, television or computer an hour before bedtime. A bath, a warm drink and a story can help your child to relax. Try to practice the breathing technique now the child is relaxed. Hopefully the child will fall asleep quickly. It may be helpful to repeat if the child wakes up, especially if they suffer from bad dreams or night terrors.
By starting this practice at an early age the child will have a great tool to use anytime they need to.
The breathing practice has many benefits to the body alongside calming us down. We benefit purely by increasing our oxygen levels. If we breathe through the nose it communicates with the brain monitoring our environment to keep us safe, it sends information to our nervous system, controls our emotions and wellbeing.
If we practice as adults in the morning before we get out of bed and at the end of the day before we sleep, we can feel the benefits within a few days. For adults repeat the technique up to twenty times (approximately ten minutes) if you struggle to keep count, play soft music in the background that you know is about ten minutes long, so you can totally focus on your breath.
Incorporating breathing practice in your day can really make a difference to the quality of your life.