As a parent of a four-year-old and a three-year-old, life has been pretty hectic for a while now! A metaphysical line has been drawn across my memory, where life before children feels like a completely separate life from the one, I am living – probably to protect me from remembering what a good night’s sleep feels like! Like many children, my oldest is not a great sleeper, and never has been. Apart from a remarkable night in 2020 where he slept all the way through until 6:00am, he had never slept through the whole night by 3 years old. We had tried all sorts of gadgets and techniques. Nothing has ever really seemed to work! And so inevitably we would get woken up by an upset child every night, usually multiple times a night! In fact, it was a pretty common occurrence that I would wake up in the morning sprawled across the bottom of my child’s bed having fallen asleep myself trying to settle him down again. The tiredness was, at times, having a negative effect on my mood, relationships and ability to concentrate at work.
After seeking further advice, I was pointed in the direction of using breathing exercises with my son and to teach him how to utilise them. It would often be the case that he would awake upset and crying, then start shouting for us. So, before bed we started practising calm breathing together. I was a little sceptical that at 3 years old he would really understand what we were trying to do but decided to try it anyway as we really felt like we had run out of alternatives.
We would start just doing maybe ten – fifteen seconds at a time and talk about how it made him feel. A thumbs up and a smile illustrated that it made him feel good! We then talked about doing it when he wakes up in the night and is feeling upset, and he liked that idea. For the first few nights, I would go in his room to remind him when he did inevitably wake up – and we would do calm breathing together. I was able to watch him visibly calm down, his breathing come under control, and he drifted back off to sleep without the need for the usual ordeal! He would calm down, fall asleep quickly and I didn’t have to wake up with a bad back anymore from crashing uncomfortably on a toddler bed!
After a couple of weeks, I was able to have my 3-year-old son lead *me* through a short calm breathing session. He showed me how to do it, set a pace and then I took over and we did a minute’s session together. By this point, Jonah was able to prompt his own calm breathing in the night and had started telling me that I could go back to bed and that he could put himself to sleep! I honestly felt quite emotional seeing his growth and how he used this simple technique to gain some control and responsibility!
One year on, and my son sleeps through every night and has more or less ever since he mastered mood control with calm breathing. Without my prompting, he has started using Calm Breathing to calm himself down when he is having tantrums, or more recently at the school gates as he faced the painful separation in his first week at school. He recognises his own physical and psychological response to practising it. We hope it will be a skill he can use throughout his whole life – when he is struggling in an exam, ahead of his first job interview or when he leads England out at Wembley in the 2042 World Cup (okay, wishful thinking!).
The Calm Breathing Sessions: and indeed, all the tools within the Thrive app, are there not just as a tool for you – they are there for the people around you too! When we share the knowledge and skills we gain, we can help those around us feel better as well; help them learn to relax, understand how to switch off when they need to and to help them check in with themselves. So why not tell your mates at the gym about deep muscle relaxation or start a team meeting with a couple of minutes of calm breathing and see how it impacts the lives of those around you?