Using our Breath to Trick Ourselves into Calmness – aka: Cardiac Coherence.

What does ‘Cardiac Coherence’ have to do with helping kids?

It sounds fancy, but the technique and theory behind it are actually quite simple and effective.

Cardiac Coherence, a term coined by the Institute of HeartMath, simply means a state that occurs once our breathing rate and heart rate are synchronized and no longer erratic or fluctuating all over the place. It’s when you learn how to make your breathing and heart rates more ‘coherent’ or rhythmic and less sporadic.

To assist with this coherence, while tapping into the intelligence of the heart, our children can be encouraged to breathe while also focusing on positive emotions like appreciation, gratitude, or while using positive self-talk such as “even though I’m worried, I’m okay.”

What are the benefits?

If your child learns how to make their heart rate more rhythmic by being able to slow their breath down, they will also be able to increase their ability to:

  • Stay calmer – Because their ‘rest and restore’ system will be activated instead of their        ‘fight/flight’ system.
  • Think more clearly – Because their brains are not being flooded with stress hormones,
  • Feel less stressed, and
  • Begin to believe they can handle more – Because they don’t get as nervous anymore.

In fact, a lack of cardiac coherence is one of the biggest factors in feeling anxious or chronically stressed. Quite often we are unaware of how little or how fast we are breathing. When we feel tense, worried, or stressed, our ability to breathe deeply and slowly (which helps us to relax) becomes difficult. Breathing slowly (and research supports this) can help us to relax even if we are still in a stressful situation.

Another way of thinking about this is “by paying attention to our breathing and slowing it down, we can “trick” our bodies into feeling calmer.”

Slow your breath down to increase your sense of calm as a family!

Slow your breath down to increase your sense of calm                                        as a family!   

As a parent, you can easily teach this skill to your children!

But first, let me provide a bit more information on what I am talking about. Then I will share a technique that you can use to teach this skill.

If, however, you’re not interested in the more technical information behind this strategy, then skip on down to the heading “So how can I teach this invaluable stress reducing technique to my kids?”

Now, for the more technical information on this technique.

Breathing coherence allows you to handle and bounce back from difficult situations more easily, thus increasing your overall resilience. Through practice, you can train your body to have a slower resting rate, which means, your body will naturally begin to breathe more slowly more often throughout the day, even when you not consciously trying to; thus reducing your overall stress and tension. By breathing more slowly, you are engaging the “rest and restore” system (the parasympathetic nervous system) instead of the flight-flight or “get prepared” stress system (the sympathetic nervous system).

By breathing slowly, you are also allowing your “thinking brain” (the prefrontal cortex, which is near the front of our heads) to work instead of our very old and primitive “reactionary brains” (the amygdala, hypothalamus, cingulate gyrus, and brain stem, all mostly in the area near the back and bottom of our heads). Both systems and brain areas are useful, but only when used at the right times.

For example, when we are in true danger, like when a car is approaching us or someone is chasing us, the preparation system is useful as it helps us to breathe in lots of air quickly and to release necessary hormonal chemicals – which helps to set off a chain reaction of fast air circulation, increased oxygen in our blood system, ready to move muscles, eyes that can focus on danger signs (like that rock up ahead that we might trip on while running), and ears that can hear even really quiet sounds that may alert us to further danger. When the preparation system is working, we are no longer thinking about all the different ways we could solve the current problem. Instead, the purpose of the preparation system is to get us to react and to react quickly, in order to save us. When that car has lost control and is approaching us, we don’t want to stand there thinking of ways to save ourselves, we just want to react and jump out of the way.

However, when we just “think” we are in danger, like when a friend makes fun of us, when we are embarrassed, or we are worried that we will perform poorly during a speech and be judged negatively, we don’t want to just “react” to the situation (like telling our friend to “shut up,” running away, or cancelling the speech), we want to “respond” to the situation (which might look like us saying to our friend “that is not a nice thing to say, if you can’t be nice right now, then we can play/hang out later when you can”).

So, to keep our thinking brains on board, which can’t work if they are flooded with stress hormones (for example, Cortisol), we need to purposely breathe slow and deep. This will ‘”trick” or guide our bodies into relaxing and slowing down the intake and circulation of oxygen (which if fast, causes hyperventilation and anxiety) and the rate our heart beats.  According to the Institute of Hearth Math, generating positive emotions, such as gratitude, while focusing on breathing slower will help improve cardiac coherence greatly. So, in short, its “breathe slow and think and feel positively.”

So how can I teach this invaluable stress reducing technique to my kids?

I have taught slow breathing to children and adults using a technique known as ‘Square Breathing’ (Reference of name unknown. If you are aware of the reference, please let me know and I will reference accordingly). Square Breathing essentially means breathing in and out at the same rate.

To explain this to your children, you can use the following script:

“Ok, now we are going to learn how to trick our bodies into feeling more calm by breathing slow. We breathe fast when we feel worried or scared, and then we can’t think clearly right? So if you want to think clearly, you need to learn how to breathe slowly. Slow equals calm. Fast equals feeling worried or scared.”

“So let’s practice breathing in slowly. I’m going to count to four with my fingers and we have to keep breathing in slowly until I count all the way to four. Then we have to hold our breath until I count to four again. Don’t let the breath get away; keep it inside of you until it has time to dance all around inside your body. Then we are going to breathe out slowly for another count of four. Again, remember to not breathe out fast, because that will scare the breath. When all the air is out of your body, don’t take in any more air until I count to four again. If you breathe more air in before I count to four, it will be too much for your body and that will make you start to feel worried again. Okay, ready?

“Breathe in sloooooowwwwly, 1…2…3…4. Hold it in, don’t let it out…1…2…3…4. Let it out slowly until I count to four, don’t scare it by pushing it out too fast…1…2…3…4. Good Job! Now keep the air all out until I count to four…1…2…3…4. Good. “

“In…1…2…3…4. Hold it…1…2…3…4. Out…1…2…3…4. Wait, stay empty…1…2…3…4…etc”

Something to keep in mind when using this strategy with children, especially young children (i.e., 4-6 years), is that children will usually be giggling and squirming around while doing this. This is just fine!  It’s how young children learn – through play! Don’t worry about a perfect performance or that your child appears to be goofing around. If they are having fun and still paying attention and trying, they are learning. It’s the “practice while they don’t need it” that will matter. It will be much harder to teach this in the moment of stress or anxiety.

After providing this training, I have personally witnessed children as young as four years old say something similar to (while placing their hands on their chest/heart) “I need to calm down and breathe slow. I can be calm.”

Slightly older children will usually squirm less, but may still giggle and appear shy or embarrassed while practising. The best thing to do in this case is to do the activity with them, not just ‘to them.’ This means actually sitting or lying down beside them and breathing slowly as well. This would apply to pre-adolescents and teens as well.

To make it even easier for children and teens (even adults) to see what is happening, I also often put one hand on my chest, just below the collarbone, and one hand on my belly. I then show them that when I am breathing deeply, it’s my hand on the belly that moves up and down and not my hand on my chest. This is very important as when we are feeling worried or stressed, we tend to breathe into our chest, which is often fast and shallow (meaning less air gets in) and causes hyperventilation and anxiety. It’s also the body’s way of “keeping small” and not showing too many signs, kind of like, “I’m scared. I better not move too much or I might get noticed.”

For older children, teens, and adults, a neat little app (there is also an associated program you can use from your computer) that can be used to assist with learning how to breathe slowly is called the “My Calm Beat” by My Brain Solutions.

Although you can buy the heart monitor (which would allow you to track your breathing rate and graph your progress) to use with the free app, you can also use the free app on its own to just practice your breathing.

The My Calm Beat app has an image of two lungs, which visually fill up with air while breathing in and empty out the air while breathing out.

There is also a tone or bell that sounds when it’s time to breathe in or out. This app allows you to set your own breathing rate (how many breaths/minute you want to aim for, try for 5-7 breaths/minute) and the length of time you want to practice for (i.e., 10 minutes/day). When first using this app, set it at a rate that is slower than what you normally breathe at but at a rate that is still comfortable for you or your child.

Another tool you can use is a video available from Zenetcie. You can view this video by clicking the image link below:

Once your child or teen is able to comfortably breathe more slowly, and has practised breathing slower for a while, their body will begin to relax overall and release more tension; thus increasing their overall resilience.

Now, for the discussion point…

Have you practiced slow controlled breathing? What is your experience with using similar exercises above? Have you tried to teach your kids a similar strategy? How did they respond to it? Any points of frustration?

For those parents that are interested in the actual research, here is a link to a research article from the Institute of HeartMath.

Worldwide Candle Lighting – Remembering the Children Who Have Died

An event that is coming up in early December is the 17th annual Worldwide Candle Lighting. This lighting will honour the lives of children lost. It has been organized by The Compassionate Friends society which has local chapters across the world. 

The death of a child, at any age, is difficult to work through. Regardless of the cause of death, turbulent emotions can arise and can range from sorrow, deep sadness, anger, anguish, loneliness, guilt, remorse, shame, and confusion, to name a few. Many of these emotions are felt and experienced by the siblings, cousins, and friends left behind.

Although it can be difficult to talk about death with our surviving children, having such conversations with them can be very healing. Talking together about your loss, provides a way to connect with each other through grief, to understand each other, and to feel less alone in what you are experiencing. Introducing your child to rituals of remembrance, such as lighting a candle, can be one way of sharing your grief together while also teaching your child that the deceased will not be forgotten.

If, like many parents, you are struggling with how to even start such a conversation with your surviving children,or you are worrying about saying the wrong thing the wrong way, please watch for future posts that will address these concerns.

For now, if you would like more information on the Wordwide Candle Lighting, please click on the image below.

   2013 WCL logo

How have you handled talking about death with your children? Any lessons learned that you want to share with others?

Implanting Healthy Self-Talk into your Child’s Mind

Implanting healthy self-talk into your child’s mind is in fact a VERY easy strategy to do at almost any time; however, times when both you and your child are calm (such as during bedtime or a quiet snuggle) is when your child will likely absorb the messages shared during this strategy the most. Many of us know all to well what its like to live with negative self beliefs or an “inner self critic.” Very likely these beliefs developed from messages we heard about ourselves while growing up or from faulty conclusions we made about ourselves because of the way we interpreted what had happened to us. Examples include hearing messages such as:

“You’re so stubborn.” (translation – “I’m not easy to get along with, people find me hard to be around.”)

“You good for nothing…” (translation – “I’m worthless.”)

“You smarty pants” (translation – “People won’t like me if I’m smart”)

“Get out of my way, you are annoying me.” (translation – “I’m an annoying person. I should stay out of their way”)

“I don’t care what you think” (translation – “I don’t matter”)

Or perhaps your parent, relative, teacher, or another significant caregiver was dealing with their own issues, such as another relationship problem, work stress, depression, a drug or alcohol problem, etc., and therefore they were distracted by other things and not able to provide you with the attention you needed (and deserved). As a result, you may have concluded that you were not loveable or worthy of attention (among many other beliefs).

These are just a few examples and a VERY brief look at where some of our own negative self beliefs may have arisen from. There are many reasons that we develop our own negative self-talk and exploring these reasons in full is beyond the scope of this article. However, the brief examples above were given to help provide a basis as to why and how we, as parents, can now use a simple strategy to help buffer our own children from the negative messages they will receive as they grow up.

So what is this simple strategy?

To buffer your children against negative messages and to help implant healthy self-talk, simply have your child repeat positive self-statements after you. For example, the following is an example dialogue between a parent and a child:

“You are a good child”…”I am a good Child.” 

“You are smart”…”I am smart.”

“Everyone loves you”…”Everyone loves me.”

What is really neat to see when this is strategy is used is their own enjoyment in the activity and the laughter and giggles a child has when doing this. The children I have worked with have all found this activity fun.

It’s unfortunate, that when working with adults and doing a similar strategy to help improve self-esteem and reduce anxiety, that many adults find saying even a basic self-positive statement such as “I’m okay,” very difficult to say. At times, some adults may be able to begin with the statement, “It’s possible that I might be okay.” 

When explaining this strategy to people, some have commented that this sounds like encouraging narcissistic self-loving. I would argue, however, that this is simply teaching our children to feel good about themselves, to respect themselves, and to allow themselves to enjoy life. If your children absorb these positive statements and they become your children’s self-talk, I would argue that your children will be considerably more resilient and able to handle the difficulties that they may face as they grow up.

When we beat ourselves up for our own mistakes or failures, this only deteriorates our ability to feel well and to do well. When we are able to be kind to ourselves, we can acknowledge our own mistakes, while we also begin to figure out how we can plan better for next time.

Furthermore, when our children have positive self-talk and self-beliefs, they are much more likely to show love and kindness towards others. When we hate ourselves or judge against ourselves harshly, then frequently, this the type of beliefs and behaviours that we give out to others around us as well. 

Let’s teach our children to hold love for themselves and to accept who they are, thereby increasing their resiliency and ability to be kind to others.

What are your thoughts about this strategy? Have you tried to do this another way?


Video Games Can Increase Resiliency…Really?…Yes!

Over the last several years, parents have increasingly become more concerned about the negative influence of video games and related technology on our children. One of the biggest concerns is the fear that our children are becoming ‘addicted’ to gaming and are thus, living lives that are increasingly becoming more isolated and less active.

New research by Dr. Jane McGonigal, however, is suggesting the opposite.

Who is Dr. Jane McGonigal you ask???

In short, she is a world-renowned game designer and futurist, inventor of SuperBetter; and author of the New York Times bestseller Reality is Broken. She was also named by Oprah as one of the “20 Most Inspiring Women in the World.”

According to Dr. McGonigal, the “gamification” or negative impact of gaming on our nation can actually be flipped on its head and used to increase our children’s resiliency and their desire to be socially engaged and helpful. She shows this through her game, SuperBetter.

SuperBetter was created by Dr. McGonigal after she found it difficult to recover from a personal head injury and became stuck in a cycle of pain, anxiety, and depression.

She designed the recovery game (and why can’t recovery be fun after all?) with the guidance of doctors, psychologists  scientists, and medical researchers, and it specifically helps players to improve their positive emotions and social connections.

SuperBetter is a superhero-themed game that turns recovery into a multi-player adventure. It’s a game that focuses on recovery by improving…

Four types of resilience:

  • Physical,
  • Emotional,
  • Mental, and
  • Social.

By playing this game, players move towards recovery and away from being “stuck” in life due to a variety of illnesses, disease, anxiety, depression, addiction, and other life challenges.

The basic principles of SuperBetter are:

  • Establish clear goals and track your progress
  • Connect with other people, (people who you actually like)
  • Tackle increasingly difficult challenges (but only when you are ready for them).

According to Dr. McGonigal, gaming also instills the following 10 Positive Emotions:

  1. Creativity (can take a risk and try something new)
  2. Contentment
  3. Awe & Wonder (inspired by heroic narrative, connected to a community that is bigger than yourself)
  4. Excitement (adrenalin)
  5. Curiosity (want to know what will happen next, what the solution is)
  6. Pride (getting better, accomplishing something)
  7. Surprise
  8. Love (feel connected to others)
  9. Relief (from feelings of anger and frustration)
  10. Joy

She suggests that players can evoke these emotions, even during stressful times and situations (i.e., before a surgery, during relationship conflict, etc). Furthermore, gamers are often willing to keep trying, in spite of constant failure, until they actually succeed…which can help them develop their ability to persevere. According to McGonigal, social gamers (gamers that play interactive multi-player games) are more likely to help others in real life or reach out for help from others and to cooperate.

Below are a couple of videos of Dr. McGonigal speaking about the above information:

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the 2013 Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation’s Spotlight on Research Breakfast event, where Dr. McGonigal, was the keynote speaker. I was pleasantly surprised at the positive information she had to share during her speech. Among the many facts that she shared, the ones that stood out the most included:

  • Her reports on a study by Penn University of Pennsylvania showing that gaming eliminated six symptoms of depression in six weeks.
  • That playing games lights up and activates the learning and motivation areas of the brain (if your interested, the specific areas were the caudate, thalamus, and hippocampus).
  • The game “Snow World” is being used while cleaning the wounds of burn victims and it has shown to reduce treatment pain by 30-50%. According to McGonigal, this is more pain reduction than morphine.
  • By gaming with your kids, you are sharing a fun playful brain-engaging activity (opposite of stress and work) and thus, gaming can improve your relationship and connection with your child.

As parents, it may be tempting to continue groaning about the woes of gaming and wishing our world would return to pre-gaming days. However, it VERY likely that it never will! In fact, Dr. McGonigal reported that up to 90% of 2-year-old’s and a good portion of people over 50 years (sorry, I forget the percentage she quoted during her presentation) are now playing games. That is a large proportion of people with a large age range. Dr. McGonigal also reported that there is very little difference between the genders…meaning, there are almost as many females playing as there are males.

Therefore, we need to adapt to how our world is now and find ways of using the habits and trends of our current world to our children’s best advantage.

So….Dr. McGonigal’s ultimate message…”Games make us resilient.” If our children are going to be gamers, let’s find and encourage our children to play games that foster social connections, perseverance, and frustration tolerance, instead of violent and competitive-based games.

What are your thoughts about the gameification of our world and the positive benefits that it may provide?

Body Posturing – Can It Improve Your Child’s Emotional Health?

The simple answer is…Yes!!! (Otherwise, I wouldn’t have much interest in writing about it here…lol 🙂

But what is it?

Body Posturing is when you put your body into a certain position so that you feel a certain way. It is a deliberate attempt to make yourself feel differently. It’s the same reason people may be advised to “hold your head up high and walk in stride” when they may have instead walked away from a difficult situation with their “tail between their legs” (as the saying goes).

Body posturing is a simple technique that I have used over the years to help clients start to feel differently about themselves….and it’s an easy technique for you to do at-home with your own child.

Have you ever noticed how you walk around when you are feeling depressed? Quite likely, you are walking with slumped shoulders, head down low, slow steps, and loose arms, and a lot less eye contact.

What about when you are angry? proud? shy? nervous? or embarrassed?

In my work with kids, I often paid attention to how they held their body and what their mannerisms were like. It was not uncommon for a child that experienced difficulties making friends and finding playmates at recess, would also stand and/or sit with their shoulders slumped, usually hold their gaze downwards, and would offer a meek “hi” or a weak handshake. If this were the case, then I would gently explain to the child how our body posture could make other people see us in different ways (i.e., shy, kind, rude, mean, scary, etc). Then I’d demonstrate this by doing different body postures and behaviors (i.e., change the way I walked around the room, looked around at things, whether I fidgeted or not, etc). While doing this, I’d have the child tell me what they would think about a kid they saw acting the same way.

Then I would gently explain how their behaviors looked and would demonstrate their behaviors to them by doing them myself. Often, seeing their own behaviors on someone else (me, in this case) would help them understand how other kids saw them. They would then become interested in learning how to “look better to other kids.” At this point, we then would begin practicing lots of different body postures and have them notice how they felt different while doing each one.

Case Study

One particular boy stands out for me. A very kind boy in elementary school who was having a difficult time at school as he was not being invited by the other boys in his class to join them in games. These boys weren’t particularly rude to him, and bullying was not the issue. Rather, it seemed the other boys were just disinterested. After practicing certain body postures and behaviors that exuded confidence (shoulders up, head up, chest open, etc), we moved on to practice confident walking, confident introductions (such as “Hi!” instead of hiding his face somewhat with a quiet almost whispery “hi.”), confident responses (i.e., “Would you like to play this game with me? No? Ok, maybe later then, See ya” instead of slumping his shoulders and walking away sadly), and confident handshakes (his handshakes was very weak with an almost cooked-spaghetti-noodle-type arm).  Over the course of a few weeks, this particular child begun to notice his peers taking more interest in him and more importantly, he noticed he was beginning to feel better about himself. These types of strategies are very similar to the old saying “fake it till you make it.”

The exciting thing for me now as I write this is that although I was doing this with the kids that I saw in my therapy room and noticing good results, I didn’t have any ‘real science’ to back it up.

Then I came across Professor Amy Cuddy and her research on body language and the Power Pose.

Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist and an Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Her research has shown that changing your body posture and holding this posture for a short period of time (as little as 2 minutes), also changes biochemistry. Different poses actually change your feelings, behaviors, and hormone levels.

For example, a proud confident power pose (arms or elbows out, chin lifted, chest open, and just not making yourself small) can lower your stress hormones (cortisol), increase your sense of well-being and power, and increase your readiness to takes risks (i.e, try something new, do something you are nervous about).

What does this have to do with resilient parenting and your child?

Once you understand the above you can teach your child how to increase their confidence and ability to face fears and challenges by posturing for a few minutes beforehand.

You could explain to your child how standing in a power pose can make their bodies feel more powerful and confident so that they will find it easier to do whatever they are preparing to do (i.e, enter a new play date scenario, meeting their new teammates, presenting their project at school). Also, keep in mind that these poses are to be used BEFORE the situation, not during it. If you child begins to use power poses while playing with new kids or working with group members, he or she may actually come across as untrustworthy or intimidating. Not the effect you or your child are wanting.

If you’re interested in hearing Amy Cuddy speak about the power pose and see some examples of different poses, please view the video and link below:

What are your thoughts on body posturing and the power pose? Have you tried it yourself? Have you taught your child the power pose? Share your thoughts and experiences below.

Should We Require Our Children To Share Everything?

During a recent play-date with my child and a peer, my child was acting somewhat ‘unruly.’ Although, previously, he had played wonderfully with this peer when we had visited the peer’s house, my son was having a very difficult time sharing his toys when this peer came for a visit at our house. My son snatched toys from his friend’s hands a couple of times and he refused to let him play with other toys that he was not even playing with at the moment. Obviously, the other parent or I intervened when needed and coached our respective children on how to approach the situation in a more favourable way.

Regardless of what I said to my child and how I privately coached him when we were out of ear shot, his behaviour did not improve and he continued to just put himself on ‘time-outs,’ (yes, my child actually does this) stating he did not want to share his stuff and that he was frustrated.

(As an aside, I should mention that this play date did not occur close to nap time so his behaviour had little to do with him being tired.)

Later that afternoon, when I discussed the play date with my son, he continued to state that he was angry during the play date because he didn’t want to share his toy dog or his new air plane. It was at this point that I recalled an important fact…

Young children often see their possessions as an extension of who they are (doesn’t this also sound like many adults?). This is part of the reason that they find it so difficult to share.

Another reason young children find it difficult to share their possessions has to do with their ego-centric thinking. Young children tend to see the world from their own perspectives and thus, they find it difficult to recognize other people’s perspectives, especially when they themselves are not in a calm state to begin with.

Then I got to thinking…If we as adults also don’t care to share all of our things (aka. toys) with our friends (i.e., our new jacket, shoes, gloves, car, etc), then why should I expect my son to share ‘all’ of his toys with his friends?

So what did I do?

After the play date, while problem-solving with my son about future play dates, I asked him what we could do differently to make them easier. Not surprisingly he didn’t come up with any solutions on his own, so I offered mine. I stated,

“Maybe next time, what we can do is look at all your toys and decide which toys you really do not want to share with other people. We can put these toys away until the play date is over. You can play with them again after your friend is gone. But if you don’t want to share them, then you also can’t play with them yourself while your friend is here.”

My son easily agreed to this and thought it was a good idea as he really didn’t want to share a select few toys (such as his brand new air plane).

How have you handled this situation with your child?

Please leave a comment below

Welcome to the Nurturing Resilient Children Blog

Hello Parents,

In the near future, I hope to provide you with informative posts that will help YOU help YOUR children heal from various unfortunate and traumatic events and to build their resiliency. Topics will include, but not be limited to, the following:

– How to foster a healthy and strong relationship between you and your child.

– How to help your child become more resilient.

– How to prepare for difficult upcoming events.

– How to deal with unfortunate events such as trauma, suicide, bullying, and more.

– General parenting difficulties.

Since I am new to blogging, I am also learning how to design a blog page and make certain features work properly, so please be patient. If you notice any problems or glitches, please alert me by sending an email to

You may have noticed that this blog is no longer called “Trauma Parenting Coach” but that it is now called “Nurturing Resilient Children.” Part of my ‘getting my blog up and running’ and ‘learning while I go’ has included revising my blog name to accurately capture the intent of my blog. Yes, my blog will address trauma, but it will also address resiliency and how to teach our kids to handle life difficulties, therefore, I revised the blog name accordingly. Once I connect my new domain (can’t do this until Dec 2013 due to another unfortunate learning error…lol), then I can be contacted through my new email address:

** Please Note – This website is NOT intended to replace professional therapeutic services. If any of the strategies feel like they are not within your comfort zone or your child requires more specialized care, please connect with a mental health professional experienced in working with children and families to assist you.

Looking forward to learning and using Blogging as a new means to share this valuable information.

Samantha Pekh, M.A., (soon to be