Diaphragmatic breathing for children with anxiety

“I'm feeling like a star, you can't stop my shine” – lyrics in Ridin' Solo.

A teacher told me she used that lyric in her classroom as a quotation. I LOOOOVE IT. Going to do that. 
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Mind blown: BerenSTAIN bears, not BerenSTEIN bears…..Whatttt….. I would have sworn my first born child and sixty million dollars that it was STEIN. Alas. My childhood, my spelling efficacy…good thing I didn't bet…
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I spent this Friday evening with my friend who I met through work, as she is the district's autism behavioral specialist. We hung out casually at her house and we spent a ridiculous amount of time looking at the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (I had to refresh my memory a little) and how it relates to autism/anxiety and flight or flight school mode, etc. Then I talked to her about deep breathing/diaphragmatic breathing and we researched how to teach that best to children.
Here's what I have seen happen. Aide, to rapidly escalating anxious child: “Calm down, take some deep breaths”. Child: ::rapidly takes quick shallow breaths with chest rising while standing there, essentially beginning to hyperventilate which is not in any way helpful::
Deep breaths: great idea, great plan.  However, most children – and many adults – don't understand what that really means and how to properly execute it. Diaphragmatic breathing typically takes some practice, and is best learned while lying down. Most children with anxiety for whatever reason, are constantly in fight or flight mode with their sympathetic nervous system in activation, meaning ready for that lion (or piece of homework, or another child's light touch, or a transition) to come at them at any moment. This is exhausting and consumes so much energy and is not a good state to be in while in the school environment (except perhaps a little bit before a test or something). We want to help these children learn to rest/relax a little, not see school as a lion. To activate their own parasympathetic nervous system. 
Deep breathing for several minutes, slowly, can help activate that more relaxing system, but it requires actual understanding of how to use the diaphragm appropriately instead of the shallower chest breathing most of us do. I researched Youtube videos and websites and either I'm a really bad google searcher, or there really wasn't any high-quality websites clearly showing the relation between anxiety and the nervous system in an understandable manner, and the few Youtubes we looked at were either too quiet to hear properly, or didn't have enough live video, etc. So my coworker and I want to see about doing a better version. I find it VERY hard to believe it's not already out there though, as we'd rather not re-invent the wheel. So I feel confident that perhaps some of you have a link to a good site and/or Youtube video that will help us describe the nervous system and the sympathetic/parasympathetic aspects as well as the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing, in a way we can use with elementary school aged kids?  I liked the idea of a light stuffed animal on their stomach that they can watch rise. If I make a YouTube video or a hand-out, I'll share it here…Or if someone sends me one they have used I would love that person forever. 
It's almost midnight. I better go to bed. I am just rambling my braincells away so I can clear it for bed! Good night 🙂 
Aug 18, 2012 | Category: Occupational Therapy | Comments: 1

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