Learning How to Count, Breathe, Relax
Small things can set kids off, but you can teach them a self-soothing breathing exercise to use on their own.
In the aftermath of trauma, when our brains may be “hijacked” by fear, anxiety, or anger, breathing techniques and nonverbal activities such as coloring can help kids and adults get “unstuck.”
Paying attention to our breath is a simple grounding strategy that helps us press a “reset” button to pause and come back to the present moment. And it can be done anytime, anywhere.
Explain that Cookie Monster is having a hard time with big feelings, so he’s learning “Birthday Breathing.” Together, watch the video all the way through. Show it again and have kids practice along with you and Cookie Monster (it helps to rehearse a strategy before you actually need it!):
- Hold up one hand—it’s a birthday cake with five candles!
- Pretend to blow out one of the candles: take a deep breath in and then blow out, curling the finger down as you finish exhaling.
- Repeat with the other four fingers until you have a fist. Notice how you feel now. Repeat if needed.
[Pro tip:] This activity can benefit both kids and adults, individually or together, one-on-one or in groups. Depending on who you’re working with at a given time, adapt or omit activities as you see fit—you know your kids and families best!
The smallest, simplest things—like coloring together—provide the best opportunities for quiet bonding, conversation, relaxation, collaboration, and praise.
Breathing strategies help children gain a sense of calm, presence, and grounding.