I got an apple watch for Christmas this year, which has been amazing for my productivity- I can check email and respond to texts more quickly and stay on schedule for my clients and meetings. But there is an interesting feature on the apple watch that I am still trying to wrap my head around. Three times a day, my watch buzzes on my wrist and reminds me to stop and breathe. The watch tells me to breathe for a full minute, 3x/ day, and I admittedly struggle with this (I’ve made it 27 seconds to date).
This comment may seem silly to many of you- who forgets to breathe? And in addition, who CAN’T stop what they are doing to breathe? As I am wrapping up several highly important and meaningful projects right now, I am more anxious than usual, and I am in a constant state of “fight or flight”. When a nervous system is on high alert, slowing down to breathe and focus on breath is 100% necessary AND for me (and I suspect, many other people like me), almost impossible. If you can appreciate and relate to this perspective as an adult, imagine what it must feel like if you are a child having a fight or flight response to situations in his or her environment. Children with sensory processing challenges may become so overwhelmed by stimuli that they react subconsciously and unintentionally, an attempt to reorganize their nervous system and re-focus. This reaction can manifest in so many different ways- excessive movement, body crashing, impulsivity, tantrums, and/ or aversive responses to sights, sounds and textures. As pediatric occupational therapists, we are trained to recognize these reactions. In fact, teaching strategies are an important component of our treatment sessions so we can provide children (and their parents) with strategies that can help.
Teaching a child to “breathe” (using meaningful child-relatable context) can be a highly effective way to help a child deescalate from a reaction to aversive stimuli. In our OT sessions and our group KidSHINE bootcamp classes, we review these strategies weekly with children when they are calm, so they can practice and access these strategies more effectively when they are start to feel anxious, out of control, or overstimulated. We have compiled a list of the top 5 most popular “breathing strategies”. These chosen strategies are ones that children in our program tell us are their favorites! I am sharing them below with pictures and descriptions. Practice these strategies with your child (when they are calm) and ask which one is his or her favorite! If a strategy resonates with your child, he or she will be able to access the strategy more independently in a time of need. And Breathe on…
(1) “Triangle Breathing”
Practice triangle breathing 3 times each day when your child is relaxed so this becomes more automatic for your child and he or she is better able to access this strategy during times of stress.
(2) “Feather Breathing”
Have your child choose a feather that is most calming to them or that brings them positive feelings. Next, have them hold it in one hand and slowly, take a deep breath in and slowly blow the feather up one side and down the other.
Practice this strategy 3 times each day to practice deep breathing so your child is better able to access this technique during times of stress.
(3) “Bumblebee Breathing”
Have your child take a deep breath in through their nose. When they breathe out, have them breathe out through their mouth and hum while they do it. For added regulation, they can close their eyes to shut off everything else around them.
(4) “Rainbow Breathing”
Have your child lay flat on their back with their arms by their side.
As they breathe in their arms will come up over their head and as
they breathe out their arms will go back down to their side. Their
arms are making a rainbow as they do this.
(5) "Cupcake Breathing"
Children especially love this one! The imagery of a cupcake or a candle can deescalate a child even before they start using the breathing strategy