Wildcat Wellness
Dr. Katherine Peterson — Student Services Director
For many parents, the holiday season can be a beyond-busy season. It brings a mixture of excitement and trepidation — so much to do, so little time. There is a good reason that “hustle and bustle” and “Christmas rush” are our culture’s December colloquialisms. An unwanted add to our stress is that our children pick up on the adult energy around them and they too can feel frazzled. Practicing mindfulness is one simple way to settle our minds and tend to our hearts as we approach the winter holidays. 
Mindfulness gives us a way to take a brief “time out” from the list making, worry, and the frantic state that too often goes hand in hand with holiday preparations and celebrations. While there are many definitions for mindfulness, I tend to think of it as clearing your mind of distractions and directing your attention to the here and now, without judgment. 

When we are mindful, we are more calm and can achieve clarity. Research shows that regular mindfulness practice can help to reduce stress, enhance concentration, improve memory and support overall well-being. One of the easiest ways to introduce children to mindfulness is by teaching them the power of their breath. While there are many tools we teach students related SEL, the breath is the most primary and effective way of self-regulating. Taking a deep breath, as simple as it may seem, may be one of the most valuable lessons that we can both learn and teach.

“Belly Breathing” is Key (aka Diaphragmatic breathing)
Diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing or deep breathing is breathing that is done by contracting the diaphragm, a muscle located horizontally between the thoracic cavity and abdominal cavity. Air enters the lungs and the belly expands during this type of breathing.This type of breathing is crucial in order for breathing to help calm the body and mind. Belly breathing contrasts the rapid, shallow breathing we tend to do when tense or anxious. 

How to Breathe with Your Diaphragm 
Lie down on your back on a comfortable surface or on the floor with a pillow under your knees. Place a book on your abdomen, near your belly button, or place one of your hands on your belly. (For younger children, you might try using small stuffed animal in place of a book.) As you inhale, allow your stomach to push against the weight of the book. The book (or stuffed animal) should lift with the inhalation. As you exhale, allow the pressure of the book to push your stomach in. Continue to exhale and let your stomach fall until you have expired the air. Repeat for a few minutes or up ten minutes. Allow the air to flow evenly and slowly. Remember to breath slowly and if your attention drifts, bring it back to observing your breath and the movement of the abdomen. 
 Try This At Home
  • Hug someone tight and take 3 big belly breaths together. Notice out loud how you each felt before and after. Repeat daily! 
  • Take a mindful minute each morning and each evening as a family. 
  • Try a mindfulness or meditation app with one of your children such as Insight Timer or HeadSpace. 

Additional Resources

When was the last time you did nothing for 10 minutes?
Andy Puddicombe, founder of HeadSpace, gives an inspirational TED talk about the rejuvenating power of taking 10 mindful minutes each day.

Cute Sesame Street Belly Breathing Video for Young Children


Erik Peper, professor of Holistic Health at San Francisco State, is a world expert in the mind body connection. He often teaches and write about the ways in which mindful breathing can prevent and treat a variety of physiological and psychological disorders. Click here to learn more.