Bedtime with your children can have its lovely moments but it can also be (and most often is) hugely stressful, especially when you are trying to put more than one child to bed. Energy levels in the evenings are generally low, as is our level of patience. Many parents find themselves confronted with their child’s anxieties or worries and it can be really hard to know how to help them. It’s very normal for little ones to worry about events from their day whether imagined or not, and it presents a real challenge for us as parents to know the ‘right’ answer.
As a yoga teacher and mum to three girls I wanted to use my mindfulness techniques on the girls, especially at times when they seemed to worry more at night. Breathing exercises help me so much to overcome my own anxiety and I thought it made sense to use this technique with my girls.
Children’s brains are wired differently, their imagination is vivid, colourful and I love working with that.
Here are our 3 favourite mindfulness and breathing exercises that work really well for children before bedtime:
Blow up your balloon: a calming visualisation
Tell them to: “get cosy in your bed, close your eyes and feel really lovely and secure. Imagine that you are blowing up a balloon each time you exhale. You can make it as big as you’d like and give it a colour, maybe it’s even rainbow coloured. Inhale deeply and exhale blowing up your imaginary balloon. Once you get it as big as you want, let it go and let it drift up into the sky. It’s a little windy now and your balloon drifts over the trees, you can see your home, the street you live on. Slowly, your balloon takes off and you can land it anywhere you like. Land it in your favourite place, like your bedroom or the sofa at a grandparents house. Invite your favourite person to come and play with you. Once you’re in your favourite place, with your favourite person, you can choose to play your favourite games, for as long as you like. No-one needs anything else of you, nothing is asked of you, you have nowhere else to be. Just to be totally happy in your favourite place, with your favourite person, playing your favourite games – for as long as you’d like to.”
Be creative here, go into detail and blow onto your child’s hair for effect. This technique not only gets children to breathe with more intent, but it allows them to feel as good as they can by transporting themselves into their favourite situations. I do this with children from the age of 4 all the way up to teens.
Ten finger breathing technique
This is a lovely way of getting them to take ten long inhales and exhales while they are fully aware, fully connected and with the sensory support of using our index finger to keep you on track.
Tell them to: ‘Sit in bed or on a chair and bring your index finger of your right hand onto the base of your wrist on your left hand. As you inhale, draw your index finger to the tip of your pinkie, as you exhale deeply run your finger down to the base of your pinkie. Inhale and run your finger to the tip of your ring finger, exhale down to the base. Continue this until you end with your thumb and then with to the other side.’
This is a brilliant way for children to become more mindful through the sensory aspect of their fingers running up and down their hands. This exercise helps to show we grow tall on the inhale, and we can let go up our exhales.
The sphere breath
Again, working with a visual thread to support the breath works really well here. Put your hands together, just like prayer hands. As you inhale open your palms but keeping your fingertips connected to form a sphere. As you exhale, flatten your hands together.
You can imagine that your belly also inflates as you inhale and it softens as you exhale.
Dani Binnington is a cook, yoga teacher and wellness warrior dedicated to providing practical steps for physical and mental wellbeing for the whole family.