Our six-year-old fell off his bike last week.
No new flash there. All aspiring cyclists take their knocks for a summer or two before they’ve mastered the two-wheeler.
It’s how he reacted to the whole situation that was extraordinary. As mom ran over to check his condition, the boy with skinned knees was calm as could be.
“What are you doing?,” asked mom.
“I’m breathing,” he said. “Just like Jason taught me.”
Sweet, sweet success.
Breathing, deep breathing from the diaphragm is essential to living a good life. As adults, yoga teachers and psychologists drill us on the importance of deep breathing to address stress, control anxiety and get more out of exercise.
Funny thing is that I believe deep breathing is even more important for kids. I use it to de-escalate arguments, improve sleeping habits and to teach the kids that they can take on even the most frustrating of tasks.
Most new age-y types tell us that we breathe the wrong way. Often, our breathing is too shallow. Big, full, deep breathing – here’s an article on the subject – is where it’s at. I start using it with my kids as a way to get them out of “spiral” situations – situations where things aren’t really that bad, but the emotion has taken over and a full on meltdown is on the way.
I experimented with this one last year when our six-year-old was getting blood drawn at the hospital. Needle goes in, anxiety goes up. Same thing that happens to just about every kid who faces down the sharp end .The thing was, this boy gotten less upset at the pain of heart surgery. In the past, I’d looked on helplessly when kids got the needles.
But as I sat there wondering how would I calm him down – I thought how would I calm me down, and I thought about the breathing thing I do when I’m on an airplane experiencing turbulence.
“Take a deep breath,” I said as I rubbed his back. Sixteen seconds and three breaths later, the anxiety was over. He actually started to laugh.
I was on to something, and it turns out, something big.
I use it to shorten fights with the teenager. I use it to get the pre-tween over the objection that “I’m not even tired.” I use it to deal with the pain and fear of everyday life.
At first, I become a gentle, firm reminder about breathing. Eventually, it takes over and the kids integrate the habit into what they do. In the years to come, I know that good breathing will make for adults who can handle rejection, angry people and bad days at work.
It’s even working with our two-year-old. Halfway through writing this post, our smallest one took the nuclear option. And so I followed my breathing process. I isolated her so that she could focus on my calm voice. I rubbed her back. And I made funny faces while I breathed. She’s still a little small to get the whole “take a deep breath,” thing, but she can watch me do it. And she calms down.
Calmer kids, one breath at a time – that’s the first thing I want them to truly learn.