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Using Breath to Control Anger

Avoiding tantrums provides more peace and comfort than ending them. By listening to her words and watching your child’s body language, you will often be able to help her avoid a meltdown. Specialists in science and medicine vouch for the benefits of using the breath to calm agitation and heighten feelings of calmness. Sharla Kostelyk, an author, adoption advocate, and mother, claims, “Calm-down breathing is a skill that is very effective when a child is under stress, struggling with anxiety, or having a meltdown.” Kostelyk suggests that at a time when deep breathing would help restore peaceful feelings, babies and children resort to shallow breaths. As soon as babies gain enough receptive understanding of language, demonstrate the steps below.

  • If your baby has seen or played with balloons, show her a blown-up balloon and compare it to her tummy.

  • Model as you say, “Use your nose to breathe into your belly balloon as I count to four (seconds).”

  • Say, “Put your hand on your tummy.”

  • Model and ask your baby to exhale through her mouth. Kostelyk claims this step provides the release needed to prevent or reduce a tantrum.

  • Continue to guide your baby to keep her hand on her tummy, breathe in through her nose for four seconds, hold the breath for two seconds, and then release through her mouth.

Story: Teaching Breath to Calm

Although Daisy is still calm, Margie can see her toddler heading for a meltdown. Quickly, Margie turns her total attention to the baby.

Margie: “Daisy, look at Mommy. I am putting my hand on my belly. Can you do that?”

As Daisy copies her mom’s hand movement, Margie touches her own nose and adds, “I’m going to breathe through my nose into my belly balloon while I count to four. Can you do this with me?”

As Daisy copies, Margie adds, “I am going to hold my breath. Can you do this while I count to two?”

Reminding Daisy to watch her, Margie asks, “Is your hand still on your tummy? Thank you.” Touching her own mouth, Margie says, “Now I am going to blow the air out through my mouth.” After modeling a loud whhhhhsh sound, Margie asks, “Can you make a whhhhhsh sound?”

Teach the breathing procedure at a time when your baby feels calm. Repeat the procedure with your baby often enough for her to establish “muscle memory.” By practicing during calm times, you increase your chances of preventing a tantrum. According to Kostelyk, even blowing bubbles through a wand will be helpful.


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