Breathwork is one of my favorite healing modalities when I’m anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, or just a little beat down. It helps me clear my mind and calm my nervous system – fast. As someone who has struggled with anxiety since playing with barbies in elementary school, I have Wish I had a breathwork tool back then like the candle breathing technique that could help my young self deal with big emotions and feel safe and calm in any situation.
Breathwork teacher and life coach Gwen Dittmar says breathwork is a simple and powerful coping mechanism, especially for children, helping them regulate their body, breath, and mind during emotional or stressful states. “Deep breathing helps bring kids into the present moment while helping them regulate their nervous system,” adds breathwork and mindset coach Ana Lilia.
It does this, she explains, by slowing your heart rate, increasing your body’s oxygen levels, and activating your parasympathetic nervous system (aka the resting and digesting states). And research backs it up: A 2021 study showed that slow, deep breathing significantly reduced children’s physiological arousal.
The candle breathing technique is an easy way to introduce children to breathwork. As the name suggests, it’s all about visualizing blowing out birthday candles.
How to use the candle method to engage children in breathwork
This candle method is great for children of all ages. Lilia suggests making mindfulness exercises like these a game that you play with them to teach them these tools Before they need them. “When he was two years old, I started teaching my nephew how to breathe actively. He loves it!” She says. “The earlier you teach kids how to use their breath to calm themselves, the easier and more automatic it becomes for them to use these techniques.”
However, Dittmar notes that breathwork is particularly helpful when children are experiencing high emotions, upsets, tantrums, or having trouble falling asleep. In these scenarios, Lilia recommends starting the exercise by acknowledging these big feelings. “Get down to their level and connect with them,” she says. “Help them feel seen by acknowledging their feelings [by saying something like]: ‘You seem angry that your sister took your toy.’” Then invite the child to breathe with you and explain that this breathing exercise can help them calm down when they are experiencing strong emotions.
There are a few different variations of the candle breathing technique that you can try. Regardless of the specific method, the purpose is to give the child an image. “Tell your child to imagine that they have a birthday cake and a candle in front of them,” says Dittmar. “Then have her take a deep breath in through her nose and out through her mouth to blow out the birthday candle.” Lilia adds that you can even ask her to close her eyes and make a wish. Then repeat this as many times as needed until the child calms down. Lilia recommends at least five deep breaths. After that, she suggests embracing the child with a hug to reinforce a sense of security.
If the child needs help understanding the concept of breathing in through their nose, Lilia recommends telling them to pretend to smell a flower. And if they need a more concrete image, you can hold up five fingers and pretend they’re candles, and put one finger down as you blow out each candle.
Beyond the technique, Dittmar says one of the best ways to get kids involved in breathing exercises is to have their caregivers do breathwork, too. “It shows our kids that there are tools and solutions to make us feel better when we’re disregulated, tired, and unmotivated,” she says. So, if possible, do the exercise with them to set a good example.
More breathing techniques for children
The candle method is just one of many breathing techniques that children can use. Here are three more to add to your toolkit.
“Rabbit breathing is imagining a rabbit sniffing in three times, as if sniffing for carrots or lettuce, and then exhaling a large breath through its mouth,” says Dittmar. “This type of breathwork is cleansing for children, much like fire breath is for adults.”
At bedtime, Dittmar recommends trying snake breathing with children, which contains sounds and activates the vagus nerve. “Tell your child to imagine a snake. Breathe in deeply through your nose and breathe out through your mouth, slowly and long,” says Dittmar. “Slower exhalation helps our nervous system calm down.”
Finally, tapping with deep breathing, a technique Lilia calls “butterfly hugs,” can also help reduce anxiety, stress, and feelings of overwhelm. “The butterfly hug is when you cross your arms across your chest and gently tap your shoulders, one at a time,” she explains. “As you tap, breathe gently in through your nose and out through your nose.” She also recommends asking them how they’re feeling while practicing this technique to help them process their emotions.