When I am asked to help students with learning difficulties and anger management challenges, I often ask them how their body feels when they are angry. Children often say that they find it hard to breathe; they don’t know what they’re feeling; or they feel butterflies in their tummy.
Being able to recognise and label an emotion or a feeling in your body can be challenging even for adults.
So teaching children to discover how emotions look and feel is extremely important.
My favourite activity for learning about emotions is circling the emotions on Thomas the Tank Engine faces and other cartoon characters. To teach children how to be more understanding of how their body is feeling, I get them to close their eyes if they feel safe and comfortable, and imagine a cute butterfly or bird landing on their shoulder, landing on their nose, landing on their hand, and landing on their toes. This visualisation is fun and engaging.
When I ask students to take a big deep breath, kids often hold their breath, or take fast and short breaths. The breaths that they take are using their chest and shoulder muscles, instead of breathing with the strength of their abdominals and diaphragm muscles.
This is why deep breathing and mindfulness activities are so important for children in your early learning or primary school service.
Deep breathing helps children to:
- reduces anxiety by giving you something to focus on (push your belly out when you breathe in (like blowing up a balloon) and squeeze your belly in when you breathe out (like deflating a balloon).
- delivers more oxygen to our organs and our brain – helps us to think, digest, and move better
- reduces anger by slowing down our fight/flight response
- relaxes our muscles by giving our muscles the oxygen that they need
My favourite way to teach children how to learn deep breathing is to practice deep breathing by pretending to smell a flower and then blow a dandelion or a pinwheel. This gives children a visual resource that will help them to be in the moment and focused on the task.
More fun deep breathing activities include:
* blowing bubbles through a straw and
* blowing ping pong balls across a table with a straw.
These activities teach children how to control they force of their exhale, as well as learning how to inhale through their nose.
Other fun mindfulness activities for children include:
- Encourage children to be destructive and scrunch up paper then throw it into a bin or washing basket. Even I love this activity!
- Tear paper using a pincer grip (first two fingers and thumb). Tearing paper encourages mindfulness and also develops necessary fine motor skills.
- Scribble to music. Scribble using hard pressure. Scribble using soft pressure. The feeling of free drawing is soothing and helps children to be in the moment as they change speed, direction, and pressure of their hand.