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Question & Answer - Oral Sensory-Motor, Myofunctional, Vocal Tract, & Airway Information



What is the importance of healthy breathing habits in children?

Answer from Brian Murphy, Buteyko Practitioner and Primary School Teacher in Ireland

March 2017



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Mouth Breathing Affects our Children's Health

 

When I work in classrooms with children ranging from 5 to 12 years old, I often ask them the question, “Which do you think is a healthier way of breathing - through your nose or through your mouth?” Practically all the children answer that breathing through the nose is better. They know this intuitively and instinctively. Nose breathing is best. Little children know this, but many adults don't give it a second thought! 

 

From my observations as a primary school teacher, I would estimate that up to 50-percent of children mouth-breathe habitually. This anecdotal evidence on my part lines up with research on the breathing habits of children. Studies on the breathing habits of children have shown that in general over 50-percent of children do indeed mouth-breathe habitually. 

 

So, how does mouth breathing affect the health of our children? 

 

Mouth Breathing Can Activate the Stress Response in Our Children 

 

Breathing is the most vital act that we carry out on average 20,000 times a day. How we breathe makes a huge difference to our health. I have been observing my 18-month-old son's breathing habits since he was born, and I'm happy to say that he is a nose breather. Long may this continue! The only time my little boy switches to mouth breathing is when he is extremely upset by something. He sleeps with his mouth closed, toddles around with his mouth closed, as well as uses his mouth for eating and saying his words. It is important to note that it is when he is upset that he mouth-breathes.

 

Mouth breathing affects our mood and emotional balance. When we are upset we tend to switch to mouth breathing, but also mouth breathing may activate the stress response or fight or flight mechanism in our nervous systems. 

 

There is a growing concern amongst teachers and parents in Europe and the United States about the elevated stress levels that children are presenting both inside and outside the classroom. Habitual mouth breathing is a major contributor to the unnatural levels of stress that people both young and old are experiencing. A stressed out child does not learn easily. It is no exaggeration to say that mouth breathing can undermine a child's cognitive development and performance in school. 

 

Mouth Breathing Negatively Affects Sleep Quality and School Performance.  

 

From my observations as a teacher, there are two types of behaviours that manifest when a child is not getting enough quality sleep. Some children are visibly exhausted and find it difficult to focus on tasks in school, and other children are hyper-active. This hyperactivity is caused by the child having to keep talking, moving, and acting out to prevent the onset of the underlying tiredness. Neither of these two behaviours is conducive to focused learning in school.

 

Mouth Breathing Affects Cranio-Facial Development

 

Habitual mouth breathing and poor tongue posture are connected. The correct resting position of the tongue is on the roof of the mouth. Mouth breathing causes the tongue to drop down from its correct position. As the child's face is growing and developing, this action can have a detrimental effect on the correct forward growth of the face. Long, narrow faces with receding chins are often the result of mouth breathing in childhood. This seemingly innocuous habit can literally affect the healthy growth of the face. It is more than just appearances that are affected by this. A long, narrow face with a receding jaw puts a person at increased risk of narrowing the airway, therefore, increasing the risk of developing Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). A person with a narrow airway size is also at a disadvantage when it comes to sports. 

 

So How Can We Improve our Children's Breathing Habits? 

 

It is important to first of all really acknowledge the negative effects of mouth breathing and then put a focus on making sure that children really try to switch to nose breathing as a habit. Motivating children to pay close attention to how they breathe takes effort on the part of the caregivers such as parents and teachers. The more aware the general public is about the importance of nose breathing, the more likely it is our children will follow suit and pay attention to how they are breathing themselves. The vital role our breathing plays in our existence means that changes we make to our breathing will have a profound effect on our health and well-being. Children should be always encouraged to breathe through the nose. They can also be encouraged to observe the adults in the household to see how they are breathing. With an average of 20,000 breaths per day or 7.3 million breaths per year paying attention to how we breathe is a well worth the effort. 

In my Buteyko Breathing Clinic I teach practical exercises that make it possible to de-congest the nose and make nose breathing a way of life. The breathing exercises are easy and fun for children, and they can be applied in daily life. Children who have asthma, rhinitis, hay fever or issues with concentration at school can greatly benefit from learning the Buteyko Breathing Technique.  The exercises can also help with fitness levels and quality of sleep.

See my website www.yourbreath.ie. I am available for Skype consultations. Here is my email: brian@yourbreath.ie. International research in this area can be viewed at buteykoclinic.com under the heading For Parents: How Buteyko Can Help Your Child's Development

 

Your breath is within your control, Best Wishes, Brian