As I walk down the hallway, I feel my heart racing, my breath shortening, my shoulders getting tense, my brain spinning with a thousand racing thoughts… Ah…I notice this is my dysregulation.
“A dysregulated adult cannot regulate a dysregulated child” – Dr. Bruce Perry, MD, Ph.D.
I become aware and take five deep belly breaths from my diaphragm. I notice my body relaxing and my mind slowing down. I am safe, I’ve got this, I can handle this–I tell myself. I feel empowered. I step into the busy classroom, now better prepared to support children exhibiting challenging behaviors.
I see her standing there, hands made into tight fists, shoulders moving up and down quickly with her breath. I calmly walk to stand beside her and start taking deep belly breaths. I put my hand gently on her shoulder. I continue deep breathing, not saying a word. After several breaths, her hands start to relax; her breaths start to slow, matching mine. I continue to just breathe with her until her breathing rhythm matches my slow deep breaths… ah, now she is regulated, now we can talk.
So now I pose a question to you… when you are extremely stressed, and someone tells you to “calm down,” how do you respond? Is it similar to how your child responds to “calm down” or “take a breath”? Take out the telling, and lead by example by modeling deep belly breathing when you notice you or your child is dysregulated. Belly breathing* or breathing from your diaphragm calms your stress response, brings blood flow back to your lower organs, increases oxygen in the body, and releases feel-good neurotransmitters (natural brain chemicals). Breathing next to your child activates mirror neurons in their brain, which will mimic this response which supports lifelong skills for emotional control, self-regulation, stress tolerance, and response inhibition. It teaches the go-go-go brain how to slow down and is the foundation to support problem-solving. Children thrive on co-regulation to develop their sense of self and, in time, self-regulation.
Coaching can help create awareness and identification around dysregulation, what it looks like for you, for your child(ren), and for your family. Awareness creates the ability to change. Regulation helps clarity, focus, decision-making, impulse control, and so much more. When partnering with a coach, they provide additional support to help you identify and reflect on different strategies, skills, resources, and next steps as you go through this journey.
Resources to help kids with deep breathing (I encourage you to practice with them 🙂):
- Lie on the ground, place a stuffed animal on their stomach, breathe in, and watch the stuffed animal move up and down.
- Have them place their hands on their stomachs while imagining a big balloon inflating in their stomachs as they breathe in and deflate as they breathe out. It is also fun to have them make silly noises as they exhale like a full balloon when you let it go. Belly Breathing: Mindfulness for Children Video
- Learn to Belly Breathe Sesame Street for Young Children Video
- I wonder what kind of breaths your kids will create?
*Tip if you are pregnant: put your arms above your head when engaging in belly breathing
Bailey, B. (2021, June 21-27). Conscious Discipline Institute. https://consciousdiscipline.com/
Perry, B. & Winfrey, O. (2022). What happened to you?: Conversations on trauma, resilience, and healing. BLUEBIRD
Alicia Kohls, M.Ed, PCAC
ADHD & Executive Functions Coach