Breathing Buddies: An EQ Exercise for Building Focus

Sue Hurst

A shimmery pink guppy helps 2 & 3 year old children in an emotional intelligence exercise for focus.

This shimmery pink guppy is one of a selection of stuffed animals I used with my class of two and three-year-old children whose parents were studying English as a Second Language. That statement should tip you off to the fact that not only was I working with children whose language skills were newly forming, but other than 1-2 exceptions, we did not speak each other’s language. Yikes! In spite of this communication challenge, we had excellent results from this exercise.

We chose mid-to-late morning to bring out our bag of a variety of stuffed animals (Breathing Buddies). This time was deliberately chosen to be after a time of free play but before the Bible story and craft project.

The children were allowed to choose a buddy for that day. Because our kids were small, we made sure each stuffed animal was fairly small. The pink guppy in the photo above measures just under 8 inches from nose to frilly tailfins.

Once the breathing buddies had been chosen, everyone stretched out together on the carpet and placed the breathing buddy on top of their tummy. At first, I did try to get us all lined up—somewhat like canned sardines. But these were young children and we ended up more like a litter of puppies all snuggled together. And actually, that was just fine.

Each time we did this, I would show them how to balance the breathing buddy on their tummy while they breathed in 1, 2, 3 and out 1, 2, 3. With exaggerated gestures (remember, they couldn’t speak English), I taught them to breathe in deeply so their tummy went high, then let out all the air so their tummy went flat.

While they were breathing in and out, I turned on an instrumental version of “Ode to Joy” downloaded from iTunes. The recording was only 3 minutes long, but we rarely, if ever, heard it till the end. One of the two-year-old children would usually get up and attempt to wander off.

Still, I was amazed at the results of even a couple of minutes with Breathing Buddies. This exercise was terrific as a transition from free play to a Bible story while enjoying refreshments and then on to craft time. During the free play time, some of the children would have begun to get louder and more active. After Breathing Buddies, they were calmer and were able to focus on the refreshments while listening to the Bible story. (Remember, while we were using large pictures with the story we were still speaking a language they didn’t understand.) Adding the few minutes of focused breathing made an amazing difference for us.

Research has shown this type of breathing exercise brings calm and focus to the child— which is wonderful for the adults in charge. However, with continued practice, children are able to learn to manage distressing emotions—something they can use for the rest of their lives.

To hear Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, talk about his experience with children and Breathing Buddies, watch the video below:

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