Belly breathing: why it’s good for children with disability, autism or other additional needs
Belly breathing is a form of deep breathing.
Belly breathing involves thinking about how you breathe and then breathing more deeply – into your belly.
Belly breathing can be good for children at stressful times. This is because it can help children feel calmer and more relaxed. It also distracts children from worrying thoughts. It’s particularly good for children who have strong emotions or feel very anxious or overwhelmed.
What you need for belly breathing
All you and your child need for belly breathing is one minute and a safe place to lie down.
Your child might like to use a teddy bear or another small object to help them with belly breathing.
How to do belly breathing
Here’s how to talk your child through this activity. Remember to speak slowly, and pause after you say each step:
- ‘Lie on the ground with your hands by your sides.’
- ‘Close your eyes.’
- ‘Take a few deep breaths. As you breathe, think about the breath going in and out. Can you notice your chest moving?’
- ‘On the next breath in, slowly breathe in through your nose, deep into your lungs and all the way down to your belly. Think about pushing your belly out a little bit as you breathe in.’
- ‘Hold the breath for 2 seconds.’
- ‘Now breathe out slowly through your mouth, letting your belly relax.’
Talk your child through 9 more belly breaths. You could suggest that your child puts their hands on their belly to feel it expand and relax as they breathe.
After the 10th belly breath, say, ‘Now breathe normally again and think about how you feel. Do you feel calmer?’
If your child still feels anxious or upset, do another round of 10 belly breaths.
Ideas and options
- Suggest your child puts a small toy on their belly during this exercise. They can watch the toy – and their belly – rise and fall during breathing.
- Think of an image your child might like, and use this to describe the breath going in and out. The image could be something like a balloon, bubbles, light or wind.
Regular practice makes belly breathing easier and more effective. It’s best for your child to practise when they’re calm. Perhaps you could make it part of a new bedtime routine for you and your child.
How to adapt belly breathing to suit children with diverse abilities
Children with limited mobility can do belly breathing while they’re sitting or standing.
For children with autism or developmental delay, you might need to show them what to do. You could also use counting to guide your child’s breathing. Depending on their age, you could count to 3, 4 or 5 while breathing in, and 3, 4 or 5 while breathing out .
For active children who find it difficult to lie or sit still, you could suggest they move their whole body as they breathe deeply. For example, ask them to stretch out their arms as they breathe in and bring them in to their chest as they breathe out.
Looking for more play and learning ideas for your child? You might like to explore our other activity guides. Some of these have been created for typically developing children, but they can all be adapted to suit children with diverse strengths and abilities.