One of the simplest and, at the same time, most effective relaxation techniques is to work on our breathing. By focusing on our breath, we occupy our thoughts and stop noticing disturbing sensations around us. We come into contact with our bodies in the here and now. Perceiving our own breath can help us calm down not only before going to bed but also at any time during the day when something upsets us or when we can’t keep our focus on something.
Let’s see how we can try using this technique to induce relaxation in our kids.
Ask them to lie on their back and to put one hand on their stomach. Let them take a deep breath and watch their bellies gradually enlarge, seeing and feeling their hand rising up and then slowly going down as they breathe out. Smaller children can use a plush friend instead of their hand. They can place it on their stomachs and watch its movement. For older children, it may be interesting to place their other hand on their chest and perceive, in addition to the movements of the belly, how the chest expands and contracts with the exhalation.
At first, it is enough to take only a few deep breaths. When children get used to this type of exercise, they can work with their breath a little longer: for example, try to observe the difference between when we breathe deeply and when we breathe naturally. With natural breathing, hand movement is unlikely to be so noticeable; it may be difficult to notice at all.
For some, perceiving their own breath is easy, but it is better to reckon with the possibility that it is something that needs to be trained. If you feel uncomfortable at first, do not be discouraged and take small steps. For example, try to watch only two breaths from the beginning, then three the next time, and so on.
Just perceiving breath has a relaxing effect. However, we can encourage the body to relax even more by prolonging our exhalation. This can be useful when children are overwhelmed and can’t fall asleep. Or when they were put in a tense or unpleasant situation during the day.
When we are restless, our whole body is activated, which is also reflected in our breath. Then we breathe shallowly and fast. By purposefully extending our exhalations, we inform the body that nothing bad is happening to us and we can afford to relax. We can simply extend exhalation by calculating inspiratory and expiratory times. We inhale on the count of four and exhale on the count of six.
If you try breathing exercises with children, adjust the counting pace so that it is comfortable for them. The option without counting is to accompany breathing with slowly pronounced words: ‘now-brea-thing-in’ and ‘now-we-are-brea-thing-out’. A snake game can be an even more natural way, especially for younger children. You can replace the breath with an exhalation accompanied by a hiss. Hiss as long as you can. If a snake is not your favourite animal, you can exhale as if warning the toys in the room that they should be quiet with a long psssssst. Repeat the prolonged exhalation several times, one by one, until the child feels relaxed.
In our bedtime stories, we also focus on breathing to help children relax better at bedtime. One of them will even guide you through the whole breathing exercise. It is called Best Friend, and it is more for older kids. For the younger ones, the story of the cloud travelling across the sky beyond the rainbow is a good idea. Watching one’s own breath is dosed in it gradually so that the children can concentrate better on it.
Take a look at our other good night stories – we focus on breath in almost all of them. And remember, it’s not just children who can benefit from the relaxation techniques. Train the perception of your own breath with them. You will see that it pays off.
If you are still interested in reading about further relaxation techniques, in the following article we will show you a way to relax by focusing on your own body.