The Flicker Breath – Building Self Control Through Deep Breathing

Early in the year I spend quite of bit of time teaching my students how to breathe.  Little ones come in with lots of emotions, and not always enough knowledge on how to manage them.  A little oxygen can make all the difference in the world.  We breathe to stop tears.  We breathe before trying to solve problems with peers.  We breathe to “wake up our brains” and get ready to learn.  We breathe to help us calm down.  We breathe.

I find that my kids really enjoy learning different ways of breathing, and they really tend to connect with these breathing strategies.  I do lots of things – the balloon, the pretzel, yoga, Brain Gym – and one day I will blog more about these other ways.  But today the Flicker Breath is the star, as it is, by far, my favorite method.

When I sit down to teach my kids about the flicker breath, I start by telling them we are going to do something a little dangerous, so they need to listen very carefully.  This of course grabs their attention immediately.  I then close the shades and turn out the lights.  At this point they are so curious that I have them in the palm of my hands.  Finally I bring out a candle and lighter, and tell them we are going to do something with a flame.

The bulk of this is in the modeling.  I light the candle, and then ask them to observe what happens when I am upset, yelling, and huffing and puffing.  I have a pretend tantrum, and of course the candle is quickly blown out.

I then tell the kids that I am going to teach them a way to breathe that will not blow the candle out, but will make the flame flicker and twinkle.  I light the candle again, and I breathe in deeply through my nose and slowly exhale, straight at the flame.  With slow and controlled breath, they will be able to observe how the flame does in fact flicker, but does not blow out.  I do this one more time, asking them to listen to my breath, and notice that they can barely hear me.

I then ask for someone who thinks they can do it.  Of course the kids are falling all over themselves to have a turn.  I give turns to no more than three kids.  The first two kids should be generally calm and responsible kids who you can rely on to do it properly.  The third kid is up to you.  Sometimes this is a GREAT moment to have one of your excitable kids try, as they have seen it modeled properly four times, and they are desperate for a chance.

I then blow out the candle, and tell the kids that they can all have a turn.  I tell them that their pointer finger, which they carry with them everywhere, is always available to be their flame.  I show them how to hold it up and imagine that the tip of their finger is the tip of the candle.  We all practice breathing together calmly and slowly so as not to extinguish our candles.

After this first demonstration, I can refer to the “flicker breath” for the rest of the year.  Because it is such a powerful and memorable experience, the kids know what to do even when they are really frustrated or agitated, and they can begin to breathe and calm down.

There is not much more powerful that we can give our kids than the knowledge of how to be calm.  I give you the flicker breath.


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