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Let’s Breathe!

This article is part of our weekly series Executive Function Tips for Families.

Breathing exercises are a fun way to help your child calm down and think about what they’re doing. These breathing activities offer your child the opportunity to practice focused attention. These are elements of a strong foundation of executive function skills.


Children practice deep breathing to learn how to calm down, refocus, and transition from one activity to another. Focusing on one’s breath is a key part of mindfulness.

Executive Function Skills Practiced:

  • EF: Focused attention: Your child will watch you, and monitor themselves as they do each exercise.
  • EF: Inhibitory control: Your child will think and concentrate on their breathing, making sure they do not go too fast.

Ready To Play?

Duration: 2-5 minutes

Materials List:

  • Stuffed Animal

Environment: Clear floor space

  • You can adjust the activity at any time if it seems too difficult or easy by moving up or down a level.

Read: Check out this article for more information about the stages of EF!

Game Levels and Step-by-Step Instructions:

Exercise Level 1–  (2-3 years): Birthday Candles

  • With your child in front of you, hold up one hand with 5 fingers spread out and say:
    • “Can you show me 5 fingers? Hold up your hand, just like me! We are going to blow out our birthday candles! Watch what happens when I blow…”
  • Take a big breath and blow on one finger, then put that finger down as though it is a candle that has been blown out.
    • Say: “I blew out one candle! Can you take a big breath and blow out one of your candles?”
  • Repeat 4 times until every “candle” has been blown out.
  • You can use this breathing exercise flexibly to help them calm down during transitions, use it when upset, or as part of their daily schedule.
    • For example, ask your child to “blow out their candles” before switching from playtime to lunch.


Exercise Level 2–  (3-4 years): Bird Breathing

  • With your child in front of you, hold both of your arms straight out to the sides and say:
    • “Sometimes it can be hard to make our bodies stay calm and move slowly. Taking deep breaths is a way to help our bodies and brains concentrate and stay calm. I’m going to take three big breaths and move my arms like a giant bird… watch how slowwwwwly I’m moving my wings.”
  • Model breathing in while lifting arms up and breathing out while lowering arms down.
  • Ask your child to show you their wings. Once they do, say:
    • “Take a deep breath and move your wings uppppp… and let it out slowly and move your wings downnnnn.”
  • Do this 3 times with your child.
  • You can use this breathing exercise flexibly to help them calm down during transitions, use it when upset, or as part of their daily schedule.
    • For example, ask your child to “take 3 bird breaths” before coming back into your home after playing outside. 


Exercise Level 3–  (4-5+ years): Belly Breathing

  • Have your child lie down on their back, put a stuffed animal on their belly, and focus on their breath.
  • Tell them to watch the animal go up and down as they breathe.
  • Have them take deep breaths into their belly and hold it there, then slowly exhale.
  • Model for your child how to slowly inhale and exhale so they can see the slow breath. Say: 
    • “Focus on the animal on your belly. If it falls off, that’s okay. Gently put it back on. Think about your breath. Feel the air coming in and filling up your body. Then, feel the air leaving your body.”
  • Practice with your child until they are able to inhale and exhale slowly.
  • Challenge your child to work up to holding their breath for five seconds. Say:
    • “Now we’re going to do the same thing again, but this time we will inhale and count to five before we exhale. Ready? Inhale SLOWLY and hold.” (Count to five) “Now exhale slowly. Remember to keep your body relaxed and keep the animal balanced on your tummy.”
  • You should see your child noticeably relax as they continue.

Talk & Reflect:

After you finish, ask your child questions like:

  • “Was it easy or hard to hold your breath and stay still?”
  • “How did it feel to relax and be calm?”
  • “Can you think of times it would be good to use these breathing exercises?”

Additional Ideas & Resources:

PBS Kids for Parents offers a deeper dive into belly breathing and related activities.


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