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Helping Your Anxious Child: Blowing Colors



Editor's Note: This story was excerpted from the new book Mama Doc Medicine by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson. Publisher American Academy of Pediatrics.

Anxiety and anxious feelings are a normal part of childhood. However, some children really do get amped up in different ways. Often we see children's stress and anxious feelings come out at times of transitions or at bedtime. Some children really do have a hard time winding down at night. It's not always anxiety, but it can disrupt sleep.

This is a little trick I use to help coach anxious children whose minds just seem to "spin." Patients have given me great feedback over the years that blowing colors really helps. Sometimes it's for children and teens who can't drift off to sleep, sometimes for those who are worriers, and sometimes for those who get anxious or overwhelmed at school. Blowing colors is a great exercise to return to regular belly-breathing patterns, buy time and space for mindfulness, and improve control over feelings of being overwhelmed. See if it helps.

Greatest thing is – this is a good tool for a child or teen to regain control. He can use the exercise anywhere, at any time. Lots of children and teens who get anxious feel ashamed of their anxiety and don't want to reach out for help. Reassure them that no one will ever know they're blowing colors or changing the hue of a room. Practice at home before bed or in school during moments of being overwhelmed, or even remind a child or teen that he can blow colors while out with friends or at a sleepover.

When you're anxious and nervous, you breathe just from your chest, short little breaths. We can learn from babies who do belly breathing, those deep breaths where your diaphragm moves up and down. We know that can increase blood flow and hopefully calm kids down.

Teaching Children to Blow Colors

  • Outline and spell out the 3-dimensional room that you are in and talk to your child about all the air in that space.

  • Talk to her about how you can see your breath in the wintertime when it's really cold out. Establish the reality that each time you breathe you move volumes of air.

  • Then imagine each and every big puff of breath that your child makes is in a different color. Teach her to take those big breaths and blow a color.

  • Tell your child to imagine filling the entire room with puffs of orange, yellow or green.

Watch a video in which Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson talks about blowing colors: http://bit.ly/mdm-BlowingColors.

To read more about Seattle's pediatrician-blogger extraordinaire, her book and her role as executive director of digital health at Seattle Children's, check out this Seattle's Child story.

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