Toddlers live lives filled with drama, but can they really learn to do deep breathing to calm down? Yes, but you have to spin in so they can understand what to do and when to do it. You will have to demonstrate it and show that you do it too. Will you have to remind them to use it? Probably. It is still better than scooping a screaming toddler off the floor because he is frustrated and doesn’t have any skills to pull it together.
Dr. Harvey Karp calls it “magic” breathing. For the younger kids, under 4, I use a more familiar and meaningful descriptor: “birthday candle blowouts”. By 2.5, most typical kids and a lot of kids with ASD and other developmental issues are very familiar with the birthday cake experience. The songs, the candles and the cake make a real impression at an early age. It is a positive experience for most kids, so that already sends their little minds on a positive path. You know how meditation or hypnosis techniques ask you to go to your “happy place?” Well, kids love, love, love birthdays.
Show them how to blow out candles by taking a big breath and pursing their lips to blow out a pretend candle. If they do an overbite on their lower lip and it comes out as “f-f-f-f-f” then repeat your demo. I have had success telling kids to say “Who?” and then blow. Truth is, I think the breath part works decently even with a poorly controlled blow, but as an OT, I go for the best motor skill I can elicit. It’s a habit.
Once they have blown, they can sing the song with you if they want, but that is just a fun addition. They may be ready to get back to whatever they were doing, just in a calmer way.
This will not work as well when your child has fallen into the deeper holes of misery. Illness, exhaustion and hunger will often require more than a few deep breaths. They may need a hug, a snack, some alone time, etc. That’s OK. Toddlers can’t manage nearly as well under those harsher conditions. Dealing with little issues throughout the day with yoga breathing is still worthwhile.
Frustration is often like a big bucket. If you don’t empty out the water during the day and just allow it to fill up, one more tiny drop will cause it to overflow and make a mess. Teach your child to use birthday candle blowouts and use Dr. Karp’s patience stretching (see my post Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today from November 2015), and that frustration bucket isn’t brimming over at the end of the day.