NOTE: As with every workshop in this topic, these activities can benefit both kids and adults, individually or together, one-on-one or in groups. Depending on who you’re working with at a given time, adapt or omit activities as you see fit—you know your kids and families best!

In the aftermath of trauma, when our brains may be “hijacked” by fear, anxiety, or anger, breathing techniques and nonverbal activities such as coloring can help kids and adults get “unstuck.”

Paying attention to our breath is a simple grounding strategy that helps us press a “reset” button to pause and come back to the present moment. And it can be done anytime, anywhere.

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    Count, Breathe, Relax


    Explain that Cookie Monster is having a hard time with big feelings, so he’s learning “Birthday Breathing.” Together, watch the video all the way through. Show it again and have kids practice along with you and Cookie Monster (it helps to rehearse a strategy before you actually need it!):

    • Hold up one hand—it’s a birthday cake with five candles!
    • Pretend to blow out one of the candles: take a deep breath in and then blow out, curling the finger down as you finish exhaling.
    • Repeat with the other four fingers until you have a fist. Notice how you feel now. Repeat if needed.
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    Breathe Deep

    Download printable

    Next, invite parents and kids to breathe in deeply through their noses to “smell” a flower, then blow out slowly through their mouths as if blowing the seeds off a dandelion. Use this adult-child coloring sheet as an opportunity for relaxation, collaboration, praise, bonding, and conversation. Adults and kids can sit side by side in a quiet space with a surface. Kids color the Muppets, adults color the background (it’s okay to sit without talking, and there’s no right or wrong way to color!).

    Suggest that parents display the completed page at home in a place visible to everyone, to remember the time they spent together…and to breathe deep.

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    Breathing Strategies

    Finally, try one of these breathing techniques (perfect for wiggly kids!):

    • Feel the Beats. Kids jump or jog in place for one minute, then sit, close their eyes, and use their hands to feel their heartbeats. Say, “Notice your chest going up and down, paying close attention to your breath. When your mind starts to wander, just bring it back to your breath and your heartbeat.”
    • Spaghetti Breathing. Kids lie on their backs, arms at their sides, and imagine they’re stiff like uncooked spaghetti. Say, “Take a deep breath in, tensing your whole body tightly. Now exhale loudly and fully and imagine yourself turning into cooked spaghetti—soft and relaxed.” Repeat until they feel “cooked”!