Witnessing a child go through illness and surgery is traumatic and heart-breaking. As parents, you feel powerless, helpless and terrified but try hard to remain stoic and brave in front of them. Imagine their sense of overwhelming fear.
How often have you heard someone say “Just breathe” when you’re stressed? There is, however, help in the form of the breath, and it can assist not only your precious child but you too.
Healing benefits of Just breathe
Breathwork has become a popular and much-used technique today particularly with regards to stress and anxiety. The word breathwork is an umbrella term used to describe various breathing techniques which can be used to elicit a change in emotional state.
By bringing awareness to the breath, you’ll have control over your mind which in turn means you can control your emotions. Breathing is an easy tool you can use to self-regulate and manage your emotional states.
Breathwork techniques can be incredibly helpful for children who are about to undergo chemotherapy or surgery. These techniques may help reduce anxiety, calm nerves, and promote relaxation during the procedure. Apart from this there are numerous other health benefits of correct breathing, such as increased oxygenation, better digestion, lowered heart rate, and improved sleep to name a few.
Gentle and patient
Important considerations with children are to always be gentle and patient. The aim is to help them gain awareness of their breath and of their little bodies. Using their imagination and making breathing fun helps a lot. Perhaps let them try breathing with their favourite soft toy.
The most important factors are long slow breaths into the bottom of the ribs and belly, soft shoulders and to breathe through the nose. It’s preferable to inhale and exhale through the nose and not the mouth as mouth-breathing can increase anxiety. These principles alone can make a very big difference.
Four easy techniques to try
- Deep belly breathing involves taking slow, purposeful breaths from the diaphragm instead of shallow breaths from the chest. Children can practice this technique by placing one hand on their belly and the other on their chest while inhaling deeply through the nose and exhaling slowly through the mouth.
- Ensure the exhale is double the count of the inhale. For example, if an inhale of 4 slow counts through the nose is doable, then a long slow exhale through the nose (or mouth) should be 8 counts. This triggers the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest system which relaxes the body) into action.
- Numbers breathing: Draw the number 8 large on a page. With their finger they must trace the figure 8 while inhaling through the nose and then retrace it while exhaling. The breaths must be slow and equal. Other numbers can be used as well. This technique can help distract children from any discomfort or pain they may be experiencing.
- If there is pain and nausea, insect breath is a very light way of breathing. Ask them to pretend they are an insect and try to breathe through the nose as quietly as insects do.
- Asking breath: Let them start at the top of their body and ask their head how it is feeling today. Stop and listen. Take a big breath and sigh it out. Then ask the heart and so on. Lastly ask the whole body. Stop and listen again. Breath in and sigh it out.
Supportive and encouraging
It’s important to be patient, supportive, and encouraging while helping children learn and practice these techniques. Overall, breathwork techniques can provide a valuable tool for children undergoing challenging medical procedures, offering comfort and support during a difficult time.
A wonderful little book to look at purchasing is The Alphabet Book of Breathing for Children written by two South African breathwork practitioners. It’s great not only for kids, but adults will benefit too. It’s available from breathcafe.com