As children grow, they tend to shift from diaphragmatic breathing to thoracic breathing. Thoracic breathing involves only your child’s upper chest muscles, resulting in quick, shallow breaths that are less nourishing to the body and mind than belly breaths are. Encourage your child to maintain a habit of diaphragmatic breathing, and discourage thoracic breathing. You can do this by watching your child’s breathing on occasion to be sure his belly area is moving as he breathes. If it is not, gently direct his attention to his breath and help him to belly breathe again by using some of the exercises listed below. Most people do not trade belly breathing for chest breathing until well into childhood, at around age ten. If you take the time to help your baby establish an intentional habit of belly breathing when he is young, chest breathing may not become an issue for him. In addition, breathing exercises can be a fun activity for both of you.
- Pathway: Sensory, Creative
- Participants: Adult and child
- Location: Indoors or Outdoors
- Time: As long as you need
- Things you will need: Just your breath!
Breathing with your baby: body surfing—Lie down on your back and hold your baby on your chest and belly. As you inhale quietly through your nose, expand your belly and chest. Exhale through your mouth slowly and loudly as your belly contracts and lowers. Allow your baby to experience the rhythm of your breath. While this breathing exercise is geared toward babies, toddlers enjoy it, too.
Breathing with your toddler: tummy toy—This technique gives your child awareness that his breath is his own and that he has the power to control it. Let your child lie down on his back, and place a favorite small toy on his tummy. Let him watch the toy go up and down as he breathes. Laugh together in amazement about the motion, and point out that his breath is making his toy go up and down.
Playing with breath—Bring your toddler into awareness of his breath and how it affects him with the following playful activities described by Liz Bragdon in her article, 4 Breathing Exercises for Kids to Empower, Calm, and Self-Regulate. Aside from sparking your toddler’s imagination, these exercises can help him relax, get calm, ground himself, and become balanced: