Bedtime with your children can have its lovely moments and it can also be hugely stressful, especially when you are trying to put more than one child to bed. Energy levels in the evenings are low in general and perhaps we are a little less patient too. And if you are like most parents, you may have found yourself being confronted with your children’s anxieties or worries just before its time for lights out.
When this happens it can be really hard to know what to do to help them. It’s normal for little ones to worry about their day or things they might imagine, and it’s also very normal for us parents not to know the ‘right’ answer immediately.
As a yoga teacher and mum to three girls I wanted to use my mindfulness techniques on the girls, especially at times when they seemed to worry more at night. Breathing exercises help me so much to overcome my own anxiety that I thought it would make sense to get the girls breathe with me. But, children’s brains are wired differently and their imagination is much more vivid and colourful – and I love working with that.
Here are my 3 favourite mindfulness and breathing exercises for children before bedtime:
Blow up your Balloon: A Calming Visualisation
‘Get cosy in your bed, close your eyes and feel really lovely and secure. Imagine that you are blowing up a balloon with every time you exhale. You can make it as big as you’d like and give it a colour, maybe it’s even rainbow coloured. Inhale deeply and exhale blowing up your imaginary balloon. Once you get it as big as you want it detaches from your mouth and it drifts up into the sky. It’s a little windy now and your balloon drifts over the trees, you can see your home, the street you live on. Slowly, but surely your balloon takes off and you can land it anywhere you like. Land it in your favourite place. This could be your bedroom or the sofa at a grandparents house. And then you can invite your favourite person to come and play with you. And once you’re in your favourite place, with your favourite person, you can choose to play your favourite games. For as long as you like. No-one needs anything else of you, nothing is asked of you, you have nowhere else to be. Just to be totally happy in your your favourite place, with your favourite person, playing your favourite games – for as long as you’d like to.’
TIP: Be creative here, go into each detail and perhaps blow onto your child’s hair for the part that it gets windy and the balloon takes off. This technique not only gets children to breathe with more intent, but it allows them to feel as good as they can by transporting themselves into their favourite situations. I do this with children from the age of 4 all the way up to teens.
Ten Finger Breathing Technique
This is a lovely way of making ten long in and exhales, fully aware, fully connected and with the addition of the sensory support of using our index finger to keep you on track.
‘Sit in bed or on a chair, and bring your index finger of your right hand onto the base of your wrist on your left hand. As you inhale, draw your index finger to the tip of your pinkie, as you exhale deeply run your finger down to the base of your pinkie. Inhale and run your finger to the tip of your ring finger, exhale down to the base. Continue this until you end with your thumb and then with to the other side.’
It’s a brilliant way to become more mindful through the sensory aspect of your fingers running up and down your hands. This exercise also helps to get a sensation that we grow tall on the inhale, and we can let go upon our exhales.
The Sphere Breath
Again, working with a visual thread to support the breath works really well here. Put your hands together, just like prayer hands. As you inhale open your palms but keeping your fingertips connected to form a sphere. As you exhale, flatten your hands together. You can imagine that your belly also inflates as you inhale and it softens as you exhale.
Dani Binnington is a yoga practitioner, family wellbeing expert and creator of Healthy Whole Me, which is full of delicious recipes, wellbeing tips and inspiration for a healthy family lifestyle.