Anger, sadness, frustration, overwhelm – Just Breathe

Neuroscience has proven that one of the world’s oldest methods for calming down – breathing, actually does work.

Big slow deep breaths, in through the nose, and down into the tummy. You can breathe out through the mouth, but if you are able to breathe out through the nose it helps to slow the breathing process down, and calms you quicker.

When I teach anger management to parents, they expect me to come up with some fancy new way of helping them calm down. When I tell them to breathe, they say “is that it?”

Yep, that really is IT.

When you are in a state of stress or overwhelm, the amygdala in your brain opens up, and sparks a complex brain-body reaction where the stress hormone ‘cortisol’  starts coursing through your brain and body. This reaction shuts down the logical, rational, thinking part of your brain (cerebral cortex). Your heart starts pumping. Your hands get sweaty. Your breathing gets shorter and quicker. This is your body preparing for action. The body gets ready for either fight, flight, or freeze, in response to the perceived threat.

You know how adults tell kids to stop and think before they do something? It’s actually not possible to think when you are in an agitated state. I tell kids to …



The breathing helps to calm and close down the amygdala, and when the amygdala closes, thinking and logic return. It’s the same for everyone, adults and kids.

And I have to tell you that you don’t want cortisol racing through your brain and body very often. It’s NASTY! That bad boy prunes the synapses in your brain, draws fat to your heart, lowers your immune system, causes high blood pressure, decreases bone density, and affects your skin, liver, and kidneys. Eek!!!!

So, the next time, someone you know is angry, sad, frustrated, overwhelmed, or overexcited, guide them to do some breathing.

Some other helpful strategies include:

– counting backwards slowly from 10

– talking yourself through it (for example, “I can calm down”, “I can get through this”), and replacing unhelpful thoughts (for example, “no-one likes me”) with helpful thoughts (for example, “I have two good friends who really care about me”)

– thinking of pleasant thoughts (the kids I work with tell me “I go to my happy place”)


However, telling kids to breathe when they are in the middle of a brain storm is probably not very helpful. You have to get them to practice so they know how to do it when they are in the midst of it. Frequently I have kids scream at me when I tell them that they need to remember to breathe, so I tell them that I will breathe for them. Because I am calm and I demonstrate breathing, they quickly calm down and start breathing with me. That’s their mirror neurons working. You cannot calm a child if you are not calm.


Have a look at this wonderful video, and show it to your children…


Narelle Smith


Categories: Skills for Kids


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