March 2020 calendar pageWhat a week! I just keep saying that. What a week!

But I’ve made one thing a constant since once-irrational fears became the daily news: my breath.

What a week! When I find myself getting anxious and worried; it takes just one or two intentional deep breaths to return to the present.

What a week! When the newsreel starts unspooling in my mind, one or two intentional deep breaths can calm me down, at least for a moment.

My kids need deep breaths too. The first time I reached the end of my rope – Day 1 at 9:28 am – I looked down at my kids looking up at me; none of us knew what would come next.

I did the first thing that came to my teacher-mind. I told everyone to pause and we sat down in a circle right where we were. Then, we took a slow deep breath together. Simple, easy calm. I wondered if my tween would protest, but he willingly joined in.

Deep breath paintingThere we sat on the kitchen floor, not sure where to go next, or what we would do. But we knew we were going there together.

Years ago, I found Dan Siegel’s work helpful for talking with my kids about the importance of one, single breath. I taught them to visualize their “downstairs brain,” and their “upstairs brain.” The upstairs brain makes decisions and balances emotions, but it’s under construction when we’re little.

Fight, flight, and freeze live in the downstairs brain, as well as sadness, anger and joy. My kids now picture a “baby gate” between the downstairs and the upstairs, and they know it’s going to be in place until we’re in our mid-twenties. Taking deep breaths is like opening the baby gate to get to the logical and balanced prefrontal cortex upstairs.

As part of the Next Step team, I’ve developed resources that can help open the baby gate, even for a few minutes. And really the same activities help adults too, when we get caught up in our downstairs brains.

Our Mindfulness and Movement Activity Cards feature five-minute activities for Calm, Focus, Breath, and Movement. Favorites at my house include Expanding Energy, and the Caring Feelings Meditation.

Movement is also a powerful tool for coping with stress. I’m amazed at my kids’ need for big movement each morning. If we don’t do some large motor activity before noon we’re all bonkers. For kid-friendly learning activities that incorporate movement, check out the Brain Breaks Booklet from IDPH. It’s another resource that Shelly Johnson and I helped develop and train teachers to use.

This pandemic is helping us learn that we can do hard things, one breath at a time.

Rainbow drawing

Reader interactions

2 Replies to “Breathe”

  1. I love the brain “baby gate” concept you described. The Next Step Mindfulness & Movement activity cards are such a powerful tool for all us parents balancing homeschooling, work and emotions right now. Great idea to use the breath to help little minds process emotions that we ourselves are also processing.

  2. […] to take some slow deep breaths is important these days. Changes in routine, new ways of doing things, and different expectations […]

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