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Relaxation and breathing for parents and carers

The exercises in this booklet will be great to use with your child in many different situations. They can be done as part of their bedtime routine, before a hospital appointment, or during a procedure – anytime you feel appropriate. There is no right answer about when is the best time to do them. But, the aim of the techniques is to teach your child how to relax when they may be feeling a bit overwhelmed.

To begin with, it is best to practice these techniques when your child is in a calm and relaxed state to help them remember and recognise how it feels to be calm.

There is lots of evidence that these exercises help children (and adults.) when they are feeling anxious or worried. It sometimes can be difficult to spot when your child is feeling anxious but here are a few signs to look out for:

  • sweating
  • looking in a state of terror
  • feeling as if they are a bit wobbly
  • complaining of tummy aches

Slow their breathing

This box breathing exercise is a great way to slow everything back down when your child is feeling worried.

  1. Reassure your child and explain that we are going to do a breathing exercise called box breathing. Therefore, they should imagine a square box which we are going to follow.
  2. Ask your child to pick the first point of the box with their finger.
  3. Starting from this point, ask them to close their eyes and breathe in through their nose slowly to the count of four feeling the air enter their lungs.
  4. Now they are at the next point so they should hold their breath inside while counting slowly to four.
  5. Moving down to the next point of the box, they should begin to slowly exhale for 4 seconds.

Repeat steps 3 to 5 at least 3times or until their normal breathing resumes.

Breathing square to help breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds and hold for 4 seconds

Another great breathing exercise is flower breathing.

  1. Collect a flower or ask your child to visualise their favourite flower.
  2. Breathe in deeply, whilst doing so, ask them to take a big sniff of the flowers scent.
  3. Ask them to hold their breath for a count of two
  4. Then, get them to exhale through their mouth for a count of 4

Repeat these steps 5 times.

A variation of this exercise could be ‘dandelion breath’.

  1. Ask your child to sit up tall and relax their shoulders and face
  2. Ask your child to imagine a dandelion flower or get a few from the garden.
  3. Tell your child to take a deep breath in, feeling their belly expand
  4. Now ask them to breathe the air out slowly, sending the seeds into the air

Repeat 3 to 4 times.

Mindful eating

At meal times try and get the whole family to eat one attentive mouthful without comments such as ‘yummy’, ‘ugh’ or ‘I don’t like this’.

Mindful eating may appear simple but it can be quite a challenge. At a meal time take a moment to slow down and notice what you are eating.

Discuss what you smell, taste and feel in your mouth when you take a mindful bite. Hold it in your mouth for a moment and then swallow.

Ask your child to take a bite and notice the following:

  • What do you really taste once you stop thinking about whether it is tasty or not?
  • Do you have a salty, sweet or bitter taste in your mouth? Or is it a mixture?
  • What is the texture like? Is it hard or soft? Smooth or rough?
  • What is happening in your mouth while you eat? Where is their tongue while they eat? What happens when they have finished chewing?

To make it more exciting, try it with new foods or things with different textures like jelly.

Coming back to the positive

You can read this guided meditation to your child to help bring them back to the present moment.

  1. Lie down somewhere comfortable letting your arms and legs fall to the ground. Now, close your eyes slowly
  2. Start to notice how your body changes with each breath you take. Each time you breathe, our belly moves up and down…up and down. If it is easier, put a hand on your belly or put a cuddly toy on there.
  3. Each time you breathe deeply, your belly moves. Notice your hand or toy moves up…then down…up…then down. If you can, count 10 breaths moving in that way. Breathing in and breathing out. Give some time for child to breathe deeply before moving on.
  4. If you lose count, do not worry about it. It is normal, it happens to everyone. Come back to whatever number you remember.
  5. Now, move your attention to your day. As you breathe in, focus on your belly moving. Now, as you breathe out, focus on something that went well today.
  6. With each breath in noticing your belly move and each breathe out, going back to that thing that went well today.
  7. Now, breathe in and focus on your belly move. But as you breathe out, picture someone who makes you happy.
  8. As you come to the end, take a few deep breaths. Wiggle your arms and legs. Pause and decide what you will do next.

Relax like a cat

You can read this guided meditation to your child to help bring them back to the present moment and relax.

Try to imagine you are a cat, going about your day in a calm and relaxed way. Pretend it is the morning, the sun is only just beginning to rise and you are still asleep. So, close your eyes and pretend you are asleep. Breathe deeply while you are having a nice dream about chasing mice. So, take a long breath in through your nose…and a long breath out through your mouth…long breath in through your nose…and out through the mouth.

Breathe in slowly…and breathe out slowly…breathe in slowly…and breathe out slowly. Breathe in…breathe out…breath in…and breathe out. With each breath out you will start to feel more relaxed, like a sleeping cat, snoozing away as the sun starts to rise.

As you start to feel more relaxed, start to think about your body. You are having a lovely dream about chasing mice but you need to get your claws out so you can catch them. Pretend your hands are claws and make them as tense as you can a tight claw great for catching mice. Keep them all tense, getting tighter and tighter. Now, let your hands relax. The mouse has slipped away…feel the tightness drain away as you get more relaxed.

Then you dream you see another mouse, so tense up your hands again into a claw and get ready to pounce. Feel all the muscles in your hand go tight, clench them as hard as you can. Now, let them relax again. Feel all the tightness drain away from the muscles in your hands. Let the mouse get away for today.

Now the warm sun has risen and there is a blue sky. The sun shines on your face so you slowly get up from your dream. Yawn and take a big stretch like a cat. Stretch up with both of your arms raised high above your head. Stretch as high as you can, feeling your arms go all tight. Now, let your arms flop to your sides, letting all the muscles relax. Try again, stretch to the sky…then let your arms flop to the side.

Imagine a person is coming to stroke you on the head. Sadly, this person sometimes strokes your head a bit too hard. So, raise your shoulders up and sink your head down into your neck to stop your head wobbling around. Tense your shoulders and feel them go tight with all the effort. After 10 seconds, they stop, phew. So now, relax your shoulders and neck. Feel all the tightness slip away.

Oh no, a pesky fly has landed on your nose while you are eating breakfast. You cannot swat them with your paw as you are too busy eating. So, scrunch your face up as hard as you can and wiggle your nose. Feel your checks and lips go all tight. After a few seconds, the fly buzzes away…now relax and enjoy your breakfast.

Time to go outside in the sunshine…you see a nice patch of warm grass you want to lie on, but first, you want to flatten it down a bit. So, get your feet and press them firmly into the group. Press as hard as you can, squashing the grass down as much as you can with each foot. Feel all the muscles tighten in your legs as you push down. Now, relax your legs and curl up on the lovely patch of grass. Lay there for a moment feeling the sun on your face, feeling all warm and cosy.

Contact us

If you have any further questions or concerns please contact the Rheumatology Therapy Team on 0114 271 7227.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

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