As someone who gets anxious + overwhelmed quite easily, breathing is important to me, it’s a tool that helps me constantly. I really want to instill this in James as a way to help him through moments of frustration, especially during toddlerhood when communication anxiety is at an all time high.
Of course, I am not expert on this topic (or any parenting topic) but I wanted to share my experience with you guys in case any of you wanted to try this with your littles ones! I love a parenting book. So, pretty much all of this was obtained through different books I’ve read on parenting and child psychology – but just to disclaim: I am not a child development professional!
Some situations in which I’ll ask James to take deep breaths:
- During meltdowns
- Moments where he has to patiently wait for something
- When he is winding down for sleep
- When he is overexcited/hyper
- When he cannot figure something out
- When he wants something he can’t have
- When he gets antsy in the car
STEP 1. Start by letting your toddler see YOU take deep breaths regularly
Make sure they can see you and take big + slow + dramatic deep breaths, and as you are doing it, explain WHY you are doing it. I think a big part of our “deep breath” success is owed to the fact that James would see ME taking deep breaths all the time. As moms, we know there are plenty of opportunities to take deep breaths throughout the day, so start doing it regularly and in front of your baby!
Do it when YOU are genuinely frustrated:
Recently, I was making James lunch while he watched me from his highchair. While carrying his plate of food to him, I stepped on a freaking LEGO and dropped his food on the floor. While truthfully I wanted to swear/throw the lego dramatically out the window, I used it as an opportunity to take 3 deep breaths in front of him. “Mama is frustrated right now, but that’s okay I’m going to take 3 deep breaths.”
Do it while empathizing with their frustration:
Let’s say you’re working on a puzzle together and they cannot get the piece in right and start to get frustrated. Pretend to have the same issue and take deep breaths while figuring it out! I know this sounds ridiculous, but since doing this with James, I swear I’ve witnessed him playing alone and take a breath after not being able to figure something out. “I cannot figure this out either! That’s okay I’m going to take 3 big deep breaths and try again.”
Do it before nap & bedtime:
Start taking deep breaths yourself while carrying them to their room for nap and bed time. “Time to relax now, I’m going to take some deep breaths.” When I started doing this, James would just watch me curiously. Now, he does it with me!
STEP 2. Introduce the concept of deep breaths when your toddler is calm + happy
This is important! There is no way to get a toddler to just take deep breaths during a tantrum if they have never done it before, and it is impossible to teach them during a tantrum! So, I recommend working on deep breaths throughout the day in moments when they are calm + happy.
Make it something fun and enjoyable for them, so that when they ARE melting down they will have a positive correlation with taking a deep breath. James used to think it was so funny to see me take a big + long deep breath. Make a game out of it! And be sure to show them how pleased you are when they do take the breath.
STEP 3. Be consistent!!!
This is the hard part. There will be moments during a tantrum where you will be like “SCREW THIS” deep breaths don’t work. But I can’t stress the importance of sticking to it, especially at the beginning.
There are times when James is melting down big time (for example: he wanted a cracker this morning) and I’ll ask him to take deep breaths and calm down before giving him what he is asking for. And he won’t. In instances like these, when the meltdown is bigger than life and deep breaths DURING the tantrum are just not in the cards, I let the tantrum ride it’s course. Once he is calm, I ask him to take deep breaths (and make it clear I’m so happy when he does), say “please”, and I gave him his beloved cracker.
Eventually, James associated feeling better with deep breaths and now I’m almost always able to get him to take a deep breath in a moment of frustration!