I’ll never forget the day I drove to school and saw my kids’ sad faces. My heart sank. No parent wants to see their child upset.
If only I had a magic wand to remove all their pain. But wait, I have something better…
The Secret Magical Breath
Teaching Stress Reduction With Mindful Breathing
Taken from Chapter 11 of Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It
5 minute read
Something is wrong.
I sense it the moment I pull into the elementary school’s driveway. One look at my kids’ sad, subdued faces is all it takes.
During any other typical afternoon pickup, my seven-year-old daughter, Emily, would bounce across the pavement and explode in the car with the latest and greatest second-grade gossip.
Now she stands like a statue, staring at the pavement. Even from my driver’s seat, I can see her eyelids rapidly blinking to prevent tears from streaming down her face.
While my daughter is withdrawn, Justin is acting out his bad mood. With fiery eyes and clenched fists, he forcefully kicks the air, driving an imaginary soccer ball toward a goal. This is an everyday performance, usually ending in a victory dance.
But this afternoon he’s behaving more like a wild animal, baring his teeth and stomping the ground.
Oh my. What’s going on?
Inhaling deeply, I push away my work worries to focus on the essential job—being Emily and Justin’s mom.
I open my window and wave, not too enthusiastically, just enough so they’ll notice me. “Emily and Justin, over here.” Immediately, they come to the curb and open the door. Within seconds, their anger and sadness pour into the car, filling it with cascading tears and cries. As they fasten their seatbelts, I turn around to give them my undivided attention.
“You look sad. Who wants to talk first?”
Emily slouches and points to Justin who explodes. “NOT FAIR! We should have won.”
“Soccer?” I innocently ask. Watching him pretend to kick a ball into a goal gave that one away.
Justin jerks his head with rage. “Time wasn’t up. I SHOT IT IN!”
His high-pitched scream pierces my ears, and instinctively I want to yell back “Stop screeching!” but I don’t.
Empathy, I remind myself.
“Very frustrating, especially since you like to win.”
By this point, Emily can’t hold back her sadness any longer, and tears gush down her face.
“M-m-mommy, I-I-I w-w-wanted to be her p-p-partner.” Between loud, convulsive gasps, she tries to explain what happened while I try my best to understand. “A-A-Alexandra, but she w-w-was with some o-o-other g-g-girl.”
“She d-d-doesn’t even like her. B-b-but Mrs. J-J-Jones separated us.”
Knowing the key players, I decipher her sobbing language as something regarding her best friend, Alexandra, and her teacher, Mrs. Jones.
“That sounds yucky. You and Alexandra do everything together.”
This comment ignites another round of bawling from Emily.
Not to be outdone by his sister, Justin shrieks at the top of his lungs, “I HATE SOCCER!”
My body shudders, not only from the loud noise but also because he kicked the seat in front of him, which happens to be right where I’m sitting. It felt like an earthquake tremor. Although he’s only five years old, he has one heck of a strong kick.
What a way to start the weekend.
I feel my stress level rise. Obviously, I have to do something because my daughter is hyperventilating and my son is shaking the car.
Thankfully, the school attendant is aware of the commotion and hasn’t asked me to drive away. Instead, she gives that sympathetic glance that connotes “I don’t envy you.”
I smile back but really think, Argh, who wants this.
Slowly, I take a deep breath and then exhale, like the start of a meditation practice.
Yes, that’s what we’ll do.
Emily and Justin are too upset to notice me pulling the car into an open parking spot instead of driving away. I turn around in my seat and lean toward them to establish eye contact. “Want to hear a secret?”
Loving a good secret, they look at me with curiosity and nod.
Oh, they have the saddest puppy dog eyes. I want to wave a magic wand and remove all their pain. Except for one small issue. I don’t have a magic wand, and it wouldn’t help them deal with life’s heartaches even if I did.
So I continue with my plan.
“The secret is knowing that life is hard, and sometimes you’ll get upset. But you can feel better. Know how?”
Justin glances at Emily, but she merely shrugs, so I keep going. “You need to feel your feelings, which is exactly what you’re doing.”
Once again their bodies shake as they burst into tears.
Wow, they sure took my advice seriously. Here we go. Round two.
Emily’s face collapses into her hands, and she sobs relentlessly. Justin convulses into tears and pounds his seat.
While I encourage my kids, “Good,” I actually think, Not good.
My heart rate accelerates, but I breathe deeply and try my best to emulate the gentle voice of a guided meditation. “I want you to put your hands on your belly.”
Amazingly, and luckily, the calm tone works. Emily places her fingers gently on her stomach, and Justin follows his big sister’s lead.
“See your hands go up and down? Wow, it looks like they’re on a roller coaster.”
Emily giggles and Justin’s mouth starts to curve upward into a smile.
“Let’s pretend to blow bubbles. Breathe in through your nose and watch your hands on your belly rise. Now blow imaginary bubbles with your mouth, but slowly, so they don’t pop, and watch your stomach go down.”
If nothing else, this breathing exercise is helping me calm down.
“Great job. Keep blowing bubbles and watching your belly.”
Justin peers at Emily who is intently blowing bubbles and following her belly’s movement. He focuses on his breathing and soon says with surprise, “Mommy, look! My stomach isn’t a wild roller coaster anymore.”
Thank goodness it’s working.
“Wonderful. Now that your breathing is calmer, you can breathe through your nose and watch your hands on your stomach without blowing bubbles.” I lean over closer and whisper, “I’ll tell you a second secret. Your breath is ma-gi-cal.” I let the word “magical” float from my mouth.
“How do you breathe if you’re upset? In and out slowly? Or fast?” I begin breathing erratically to provide a hint.
“Fast,” Emily says.
“Super fast,” Justin adds.
“That’s right. When you’re upset, you breathe super fast. And that makes you feel yucky. Life is hard, but there is a secret to feeling better.”
This is a challenging concept, so I make sure they’re still with me. Yup, their eyes are locked with mine and hands pressed on their tummies.
“The secret is your breath. It can calm you down. If you’re annoyed because of a teacher or angry about a soccer game, put your hands on your belly and pretend to blow bubbles.”
Both kids look intensely at their stomachs.
“Sharing this secret magical breath is the best gift I can ever give you.”
“Huh?” Justin looks up, his face twisted in the most confused expression.
“Yup, better than any game, clothing, or whatever. This magical breath helps you fall asleep. It even helps if you’re scared. When do you think you can use it?”
“Maybe playing soccer?” Justin asks.
“Absolutely. It makes you feel stronger. And helps you focus when scoring a goal.”
“But how can I play soccer if my hands are on my stomach?”
“Great point. You don’t actually need to place your hands on your belly. Just blow imaginary bubbles, and feel your stomach rise and fall.”
Justin beams as if I handed him the best competitive advantage over his opponents.
“How about during the dance performance?” Emily asks.
“That’s a great use. It makes you less scared, so you’ll remember the steps and have fun dancing. Now, let’s go home and—Oh no! There’s a big truck behind our car, trapping us in this spot. I can’t believe it. Why did he park here? This is going to take forever, and—”
“Aw, Mommy,” Emily says, grinning. “I think you should blow some imaginary bubbles.”
Chapter 11 from Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It. ©2020 Karen Thurm Safran.
Be Playful and Empowering
This Secret Magical Breath helped my kids throughout their childhood and now as young adults. And there’s no greater feeling than empowering your children. But let’s face it, no one enjoys dealing with upset children. My parents did something very clever. They turned parenting into a game and playfully tackled challenging moments.
♥ Stop tears and meltdowns
♥ Avoid power struggles
♥ Get kids to do chores
To spark your playfulness, I wrote an entertaining, easy to read book, Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It. Learn playful ways to stop struggling with your kids, ages 2-12. You’ll make parenting easier. You’ll empower your kids. And you’ll connect with your family.
No time to read? No problem. Each light-hearted story only takes 5 minutes. And the down-to-earth tone leaves you feeling encouraged.
Learn why I wrote this book.