You’ve heard the saying, “No pain, no gain.” It’s usually in reference to exercise or athletic training. But unfortunately, it can be true in cancer care.
Procedures aren’t always painful. But many involve a prick of the needle, which can be a little painful—and very scary—for a child. And unfortunately, some treatments do involve pain that can be a bit more prolonged.
One of the best ways for a child to reduce pain—and calm down when she’s scared of pain—is to practice deep breathing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deep breathing can help a child “blow out” pain. It can also help her relax and stay calm.
Here are 5 ways you can help with deep breathing.
1. Noise Toys
If there’s one thing that almost every young child loves, it’s toys. But toys don’t have to just be for fun—they can also be tools for helping a child breathe deeply.
Toys that make noise can be especially helpful. Our child life specialists have all sorts of these toys in their carts—kazoos, party noisemakers, etc. Besides requiring a child to breathe deeply in order to make noise, noisemakers have an added benefit: happiness.
Kids are often told to quiet down, so getting permission to make a loud—and obnoxious—noise could perk your child up and calm him down.
2. Teddy Bear Breathing
I often recommend that parents bring a favorite toy or stuffed animal to the hospital. It reminds the kid of home and can keep him calm. If you have brought along your child’s favorite teddy, you may be able to use it for a breathing exercise. This could help calm him down before a procedure.
The American Institute of Stress explains how you can help your child practice Teddy Bear Breathing with his favorite furry (fake) friend for Teddy Bear Breathing:
- Have your kid lie on his back, with one of his hands on his chest.
- Place the bear right on top of his belly button.
- Instruct him to close his eyes and try to relax his body.
- Have him breathe in slowly through his nose. Each time he breathes, the bear should rise, but his chest should not.
- Once he’s taken a full, deep breath, have him hold it in for three counts and then slowly breathe out.
- Repeat until he is relaxed and ready to go.
This one takes a little planning ahead. If you know that your child gets anxious during procedures or appointments, carve out a little time beforehand for some meditation.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), meditation uses breathing techniques that can keep a child in a calm state of mind. It decreases stress hormones and has a calming effect on the nervous system—which may be exactly what an anxious child needs to reduce pain and feel relaxed.
All parents know that getting a child to sit still can be a challenge. For this reason, the AAP recommends having your kid try movement-based meditation, like yoga or tai chi.
4. Relaxation Apps
Kids these days and their electronics…
…might not be so bad after all.
There are plenty of apps—many designed specifically for kids—that teach breathing techniques. And since they’re accessed on smartphones or tablets, there’s no doubt that a child will gravitate toward them.
Here are two to check out:
This is an app to help a child learn to problem-solve, and it begins with deep breathing.
I like this one because part of the game is having the child help the little blue monster (from Sesame Street) calm down. Your child will be focused on helping someone else and beating the game, but will calm herself down in the process.
When the app starts, your child will be prompted to pick an emotion (mad, sad, silly, or worried) and rate how much he’s feeling it (not at all, a little bit, very, or extremely). Then, he will pick “”release a worry” or “receive a joy.”
You will then be given a screen and keyboard so you can type his worry (e.g., “This shot will hurt”) or a gratitude (e.g., “The shot will only hurt for one second”). These will go inside of a bubble.
Finally, your child will be instructed to take deep breaths in and out as he watches his worry bubble fade away or his joy bubble come closer.
5. Fish-ualization (Visualization With Fish)
Children are known to love art projects, so why not tap into that creativity?
One of the suggestions from the website Kids Relaxation is making jellyfish visuals out of paper plates and streamers. Once your child has her jellyfish, she can play a game where she tries to make it “swim” by moving its streamer tentacles—using her own breath to make the tentacles move.
Kids Relaxation recommends introducing your child to the game while she’s still calm. When anxiety kicks in, she’’ll already know how the game works.
Making a jellyfish visual is simple, and only requires a few items.
You will need:
- A paper plate
- Googly eyes or drawing utensils (e.g., markers, crayons)
- Streamers (if you don’t have any, you could use toilet paper)
- Glue or tape
- Cut the paper plate in half so you have two half circles. You will be able to make two jellyfish.
- Make the eyes by drawing them or attaching googly eyes.
- Attach streamers to the bottom (straight edge) of the plate.
Source: Kids Relaxation (February 2014)
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