In this breathing practice, Littles learn to calm their nervous systems and re-center. The focus is on breathing out longer than we breathe in.
This kind of diaphragmatic or belly breathing is a cornerstone of mindfulness practice and has been shown to lower stress, strengthen abdominal muscles and encourage relaxation.
By breathing out longer than we breath in, we gently tell the vagus nerve, which connects our brain to organs in the chest, neck and abdomen, to ease off the gas pedal and start braking. Taking longer exhales than inhales by even a few counts turns up the parasympathetic nervous system (brake) and turns down the sympathetic nervous system (gas pedal).
Lower Elementary (TK-3): 3-5 Breath
Upper Elementary (4-6): 4-2-6 Breath
Time: <1 minute
Self-Awareness; Emotional Regulation
Overview & Benefits
Lead children in a 3-5 or 4-2-6 breath, invite them to feel the sensation of breath moving into and out of their bodies. Littles will learn to tune in to any emotions that shift during the practice and to self-regulate using their breath when stressed.
When You Might Use This Practice
- During times of transitions, such as meal times or moving from school to home and before bed
- When you, your child or student are experiencing tension, anger, restlessness, over stimulation or anxiety
How to Do It
- Invite children to join you in a comfortable seated or standing position, inside or outside.
- Relax into your body
- Share: Noticing your breath is a wonderful way to connect with your body and recognize any big emotions you might be experiencing so you can calm those feelings. Let’s try inhaling and exhaling mindfully together and share what we feel.
The 3-5 Breath:
- Raise your open palm in the air to show breath counts
- Breathe in for 3 counts, putting down a finger for each count
- Exhale out for 5 counts, raising a finger for each count
- Repeat three times
The 4-2-6 Breath:
- Raise open your palm in the air to show counts
- Breathe in for 4 counts, putting down a finger for each count
- Hold breath for 2 counts
- Now exhale out for 6 counts, raising a finger for each count
- Repeat three times
Reflection After the Practice
- How did breathing like that make you feel? Share your experiences with each other, including the way your body responded (did it become more relaxed?) as well as your emotions.
- What do you think might happen if you practiced mindful breathing every day?
Why You Should Try It
Children often face daily situations that cause them stress. Transitioning from activity to another, navigating a particular friendship or worrying about the environment can contribute to anxiety in our Littles. One of the most critical things we can do at home and at school is to practice breathing with our children. The more we practice breath, even when we aren’t upset, the more our body knows how to access that as a calming technique when emotions become strong.
Breathing mindfully gives us an anchor to focus on when we feel swept up in negative or difficult emotions. This helps us stay in the present moment rather than worrying about the future or regretting the past.
In one study, researchers found that adults who engaged in 15 minutes of focused breathing were better able to manage negative emotions. School-aged children who practice mindful breathing, clinical psychologist Jennifer Lee found a significant reduction in anxiety and behavior issues.