Calming strategies are important tools for ANY age, and provide life-long benefits. Whether our kids are feeling tired, mad, anxious, overwhelmed, or all of the above, YOGA (simple stretches and breathing exercises) can be hugely powerful in slowing down and resetting (and some of the tips can be done anytime and anywhere–especially breathing exercises!). Doing yoga together as a family is a great way to MODEL ways to self-regulate (or calm) our bodies and brains down. Children don’t know intuitively what it means to “calm down”. They need to learn through experiences. Help them learn the signs of what their bodies might be feeling, or how their actions point to their emotional state (what am I feeling right now? what might be causing me to act this way?), and then ways that they can regulate those feelings, move away from negative responses, and begin to switch from a state of fight or flight, to one of rest and relax.
Kids are naturally playful and they love to move their bodies and stretch their imagination. Because so much of traditional yoga is already tied to imitating things around us (nature and animals), along with creative movement, kids are a natural fit! (Refer to my article on Introducing Yoga to Kids for some helpful tips).
CALMING EXERCISES AND STRETCHING:
1. Belly Breathing
My Daniel Tiger fans out there probably recognize the jingle: “If you feel so mad, that you want to roar…take a deep breath, and count to 4.” Slowing down our breathing is the easiest and quickest way to calm our bodies. But, for young kids, even this can be a tricky concept to master. I love to use easy verbal prompts with my 3 year old. Here’s something you can try.
It looks like you are feeling mad and very upset. Let’s try to slow down our breathing to calm our bodies. (Holding out a pretend flower in front of him). Smell my pretty flower. Breathe in through your nose all the way up to the top of your lungs nice and slow. Good. (Switch hands to offer a pretend dandelion). Now blow my dandelion. Slowly let all of the air out of your lungs and belly to send the dandelion seeds blowing through the air. Awesome. Let’s do it again (repeat).
You can also try this laying down with a “BELLY BUDDY” (a small stuffed animal that can go for a ride on the child’s belly as they breathe in and out). This brings awareness to the belly, and how it should expand (on the inhale) and shrink (on the exhale) with good deep breathing–many young children will actually do the opposite when told to take a big breath, and hold their tummy muscles tight, rather than expanding. Have your child lay down on their back, placing their belly buddy on their tummy. Now take a deep breath in, filling up your lungs and belly (pretending to have a balloon filling up inside of them), as their belly buddy goes up, up, up. Pause at the top and then exhale letting all the air back out as your belly buddy goes down, down, down. Repeat and Relax as long as your child is comfortable. Even encouraging them to close their eyes as they get the hang of the breathing.
If you are working with a classroom of students, have them sit in hero pose (start by standing on the knees, then lowering bottoms to heels) and place their hands on their bellies as they visualize a balloon blowing up (inhale) and shrinking back down (exhale).
2. Give Hugs!
Children can hug a grownup, squeeze a stuffed animal (this is especially helpful when mad!), or do a self-hug–wrapping their arms around their shoulders to squeeze and hold for a few minutes with calming breaths–to feel better.
3. Strike a Pose
There are tons of yoga poses! Here’s a guide to choosing the right pose for the desired response:
Visit my online store for Beginner Yoga Cards and many resources for learning new poses!
In short, there are tons of ways yoga and breathing can help re-center our bodies and brains and get us to a happier state. And also remember that basic needs such as being hydrated, eating healthy foods, and getting enough rest also come into play with moods and feelings. The more we as parents work to increase our own health and positive responses to stress, the better we are at modeling these behaviors for our little ones.
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