Early in my career as a Child Life Specialist, I was working with a 4 year old girl who needed her port catheter accessed. She was beginning to panic with rapid breathing and moving around. She was clearly on the verge of screaming at any moment. Her panic made everyone in the room feel anxious. I knew I had to do something, so I got on one knee, looked her in the eye and said, “Just breathe.” Without missing a beat, she leaned in closer to me and said, “I am!”… Touché my little friend.
We say “just breathe” a lot to children when we want to them to calm down. Because our experience has told us a calm child cooperates. What we really are asking them to do is diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, which is an excellent tool to stimulate the relaxation response that results in less tension and clear thinking. This begs the question of how do you get children as young as 6 months to” just breathe”.
Child Whisperer Trick: Bubbles!
Bubbles are a wonderful and easy tool to keep in your pocket for helping young children practice diaphragmatic breathing. By blowing bubbles, children are doing exactly what we need them to do. You will find by allowing children to play through breathing that it may take away the feelings of fear and anxiety for a focused and relaxed state of mind.
Infants: Infants love to look at the bubbles. If a Child Life Specialist is not available, ask an ED Technician or nurse to fill the room with bubbles while you are doing your exam. By providing successful distraction you are helping them slow down their breathing.
Toddlers: Toddlers may not have the coordination to hold the wand and blow their own bubbles, especially in a stressful situation. Blow bubbles to them and ask them to blow the bubbles back. By forcing them to blow bubbles back they are now distracted and practicing diaphragmatic breathing.
Preschoolers: Preschoolers, depending on their developmental level usually have the coordination to hold the bubble wand. Ask them to give their caregiver a bubble shower or see if they can reach the door with their bubbles. By doing this they will be distracted by watching where the bubbles are going and will also be practicing diaphragmatic breathing.
My favorite: Wedding Bubbles!
They are small, less messy and easily fit in your pocket. They can be found at Amazon or Oriental Trading Company in small multi-packs. So load up and relax. Play. And when all else fails… just breathe.
Disclaimer: We do not have any financial affiliations with Amazon or Oriental Trading Company.