How to Calm a Stressed Kid? A One-Minute Video can Help, According to Stanford Researchers

A Stanford study shows that taking a few slow, deep breaths significantly reduces children’s physiological arousal in everyday settings.

A new study by Stanford researchers is the first to show that taking just a few slow, deep breaths significantly reduces young children’s physiological arousal. By measuring the effects in naturalistic settings such as day camps and playgrounds, the study is also groundbreaking for its design, which more closely reflects a child’s experience than a study in a lab would.

What’s more, the short, animated video developed for the study is now freely available online, providing a proven tool that can be used in the classroom to introduce children to deep breathing as a way to self-regulate. It can also help parents prepare kids for a potentially stressful situation – a vaccine appointment, say, or a holiday gathering.

“This study is the first to show that taking a few slow, deep breaths in an everyday setting can have a significant effect on a child’s stress physiology,” said the study’s lead author, Jelena Obradović, an associate professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) and director of the Stanford Project on Adaptation and Resilience in Kids (SPARK Lab). “But just telling children to take a deep breath may not be enough – children need scaffolding. So we’re excited that we can also offer an easy-to-use tool to help kids learn this technique.”

The study, which was coauthored by GSE research associate Michael J. Sulik and doctoral student Emma Armstrong-Carter, was published on Nov. 16 in the journal Developmental Psychobiology. 

Designing a realistic field experiment

Mindfulness practices that incorporate deep breathing, such as yoga and meditation, have found their way into the classroom at many schools. But prior to this study, research had not clearly shown whether slow-paced breathing itself could significantly alter a young child’s physiological stress response, the researchers said.

“When you ask young children to take a deep breath, many don’t really know how to slowly pace their inhale and exhale, if they haven’t had any training,” Obradović said. “It’s not intuitive for young kids. They are more successful in taking several deep breaths if they have a visual guide.”

To help elementary schoolers learn the technique, the researchers worked with a team of artists at RogueMark Studios, based in Berkeley, Calif., to produce a one-minute video. The animated video shows young children how to slowly inhale by pretending to smell a flower and to exhale by pretending to blow out a candle.

Measuring the body’s response to everyday challenges

Researchers measured two biomarkers in all of their recruits: heart rate and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), which refers to the changing pace of the heartbeat when a person inhales and exhales.

“Our findings showed that guiding a group of children through one minute of a slow-paced breathing exercise in an everyday setting can, in the moment, significantly lower the average level of physiological arousal,” Obradović said.

Further research should examine the effect of deep breathing in this age group after a stressful or challenging experience, she said. “But the fact that children of this age can downregulate their stress physiology even when they’re relatively calm offers promise that the technique will be even more effective when they’re frustrated or upset.”

Watch the video:

Excerpted from “How to Calm a Stressed Kid? A One-Minute Video can Help, According to Stanford Researchers” from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Read the full article online.

Source: Stanford Graduate School of Education | How to Calm a Stressed Kid? A One-Minute Video can Help, According to Stanford Researchers, | © 2021 Stanford University

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