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Nurturing Empathy in Parents: Harnessing the Transformative Power of Breathwork

When I first laid eyes on our just born daughter, my husband said I just froze, I just stared at her in shock that she'd actually arrived into this world.

When we left the hospital with our precious cargo in the back of the car, my husband who is not known for cautious driving, drove like we were carrying the most fragile thing in the whole world!

One day, you wake up as the two of you and by the end of the day, if you're lucky enough to experience this moment in life, there are three of you!

Nurses might have shown you how to bathe a baby, health visitors might have shown you how to feed a baby, but did anyone cover...

  • how to help your baby's brain develop the areas they'll need to be socially engaged?

  • how to connect emotionally with your growing infant?

  • how to ensure you have the calmest nervous system in the room?

  • i'm guessing not!

Sure, the physical side of parenting is crucial. Babies must be fed, watered, and so on, and they are born with the part of the brain that houses their survival instincts in tact. However, other areas of their brain develop through strong early attachment. Neural messages build a roadmap that develops the frontal region of the brain so that children can build the ability to handle emotions.

Each and every smile that they see and that they create literally grows their capacity to be emotionally intelligent. Whilst pregnant, I was struck by the book "Why Love Matters" by Sue Gerhardt.

If a parent does not have the capacity to empathise with their child then they will struggle to help that child calm down from tantrums and learn to handle difficult emotions.

Having empathy is simply the ability to sense other people emotions, but many adults do not like to feel their own emotions let alone those of other people!

It's crucial that adults are able to handle their swings of highs and lows around kids because children cannot self regulate their emotional state. They literally don't have parts of the brain to allow them to. All kids can do is co-regulate with an adult so we have to show them how and let them mirror our ways.

Before kids can understand our language and the meaning of our words, they FEEL our emotional state so it really is a case of doing this work yourself first.

There are far more resources in schools and nurseries now that teach about emotions to little children. I sometimes feel though, that we've skipped the generation who are parents right now.


  • sense how fast a parent is breathing,

  • they feel how quick a heart is beating,

  • they get a sense through how light or gentle a carer's touch is,

  • and they absorb the energy of your body and vibration of your voice.

So whilst some other parenting lessons can be followed or mimicked from a page, your emotional state needs to be genuine.

In order to empathise and connect with someone else, you've got to have self compassion and understand your own emotions...and Breathwork might just be the key.


A short Breathwork practice makes a huge difference to the vagal tone in your body. This is your body's ability to recover from stress, shifting from highly wired to calm and regulated.

This doesn't have to be some woo-woo hippy spiritual practice either - although go for it if that's what you love!

As a Buteyko breathing coach, the biochemistry of breathing is what matters. By slowing down your exhale, you send a signal to your brain that your body is safe. So, breathe using your nose and count an inhale fo 2 seconds, an exhale of 4, maybe move to an inhale of 3 and an exhale of 6.

Spend some time every day, slowing your breathing down and really concentrating on this practice. See if you can do it twice a day, then four times a day, not for long, but you'll be amazed what a difference a regular short practice can make!

All toddler behaviour is their way of communicating. A tantrum is just their way of saying i can't cope with this anymore, I don't have the brain part to handle this yet. Using that slower breathing rate to buy yourself a bit of time and space to be extra patient, to be curious and look underneath the outburst, and figure out what it's really about.

When you practice a slow exhale, see if you can find a tiny moment to pause before you take your next inhale. It's that pause that is the secret in developing your own empathy. In that micro nugget of space you can use your best parenting powers to get on their level and use all of their senses - that's their language remember - slow your heart rate, calm your breathing, use a soft touch on their face or hand where skin is sensitive, and make it clear that you're on their side and there to help, not punish.

That way, you've got the calmest nervous system in the room and they're likely to mirror you - not go up against you.

Let's work to harness empathy in parents via Breathwork skills. As well as my kids book teaching breathing practices to youngsters, I'm putting together a short online course for parents, teachers, carers, health workers to share some practical tips to understand breathing in kids and themselves.

Imagine if all the niggles in our lives were met with regulated nervous systems, in control of their breath & humans who could easily empathise with one another and understand why the individual started acting up.

PS this is always a work in progress, my little babies are now teenagers...enough said!

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Charlotte Marsh is a qualified kids pilates teacher and buteyko breath coach who uses trauma informed practices to connect with her clients. Her Pilates and Breathwork picture book for children is being released later this year & school author visits are available now. As well as helping children modify their breathing, Charlotte coaches individuals and corporate clients who want to thrive & enjoy the benefits of better breathing. Reasons to use a breath coach include anxiety, poor sleep, stress recovery, chronic pain, patient parenting, female hormone health and so on.

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