Do You Have an Anxious Kid? Here are Five Ways You Can Help
Unfortunately, no matter how much you love your children, you can’t solve all their problems or take away all their stress. On the other hand, there is a lot that you can do to assist and support them while they face their problems and stressors.
#1: Try Not to Let Their Anxiety Trigger Your Own Anxiety
When Ann Bailey was growing up, adults kept telling her to ‘Stop worrying’ or ‘Just calm down.’
“I understood what they meant; I should know how to control my anxiety. The problem was, I didn’t know. […] So, when I felt anxious, I thought something was wrong with me.”
Now that she’s an adult herself, she understands what was really going on:
“My anxiety made them anxious, which was something they didn’t want to feel, and why they wanted it gone.”
(What Makes You Stronger, Hayes, Ciarrochi, and Bailey, p. 44)
While this can certainly be challenging, the best way to help your anxious kid is to listen to their concerns as calmly as possible.
#2: Provide (or Help Them Find) a Safe Harbor
On hot summer days, local families love to visit a fountain that sprays jets of water from the ground high into the air. One day, while the other kids were cheerfully splashing around, I noticed a timid little girl who kept darting into the water and back out again. Her mom was sitting on a bench nearby, ready with a hug whenever her daughter needed reassurance.
Whatever our age, we could all use a safe harbor in between voyages on the stormy seas.
I recently got a call from a friend who was worried about a very awkward conversation he needed to have with a colleague. I confess that my first instinct was to quickly end the call because the situation triggered my own anxiety. (Oops! See tip #1.) I called back and apologized, then listened to him rehearse what he needed to say. After the challenging conversation, he phoned me again, and I listened while he reported on what happened.
Your kid’s ‘safe harbor’ could be any person, place, or activity that helps them feel calm and supported.
Many people also find it helpful to use their breath as an ‘anchor’ to keep their thoughts from spinning out of control.
#3: Share a Few Different Breathing Techniques
You might be surprised by the number of different ways you can ‘take a deep breath’:
- Many kids like to breathe in and out while expanding and contracting a ‘breath ball’ or Hoberman sphere. Or you can make a ‘breath ball’ with your own hands. (See: A Mindful Kids Practice: The Breath Ball.)
- Another popular technique is ‘7-11 Breathing‘: Inhale for a count of seven and out for a count of eleven. (Or if that’s too much, breathe in for a count of three and out for a count of five.)
- Yoga instructor Sara Weis suggests kids try “Shoulder Shrugs,” “Darth Vader Breath,” and “Ocean Waves.” (See: The Top Three Breathing Exercises for Anxious Kids)
- Sarah Rudell Beach (and her five-year-old son) recommend Pretzel Breathing, Drain Breathing, and Balloon Breathing.
While many kids will find these breathing techniques helpful, it’s better not to promise ‘this will definitely make you feel calmer.’ Some kids actually feel more anxious when they try to focus on their breath, especially if they’ve experienced trauma, so they might prefer one of the five senses activities below.
#4: Focus on the Five Senses
A lot of kids (as well as adults) find that their anxiety level goes down when they redirect their attention to something pleasant or neutral in their physical surroundings.
One popular way to do this is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, identifying:
Five things they can see,
Four things they can touch,
Three things they can hear,
Two things they can smell, and
One thing they can taste.
Or they could:
- Fill in a Mindfulness Log, remembering something they saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched earlier in the day;
- Make their own stress ball, which they can squish in their hand when they’re feeling anxious; or
- Take a walk and focus on the colors of the rainbow, or focus on listening to as many different sounds as they can.
For more ideas, check out A Dozen Ways to Focus on the Five Senses.
#5: Get Creative Together
When Dr. Amy Saltzman’s daughter was feeling anxious about her upcoming talent show, they came up with a quirky and effective plan.
Nicole had an imaginary conversation with her fear to remind it that she was the one in control. Then she put a little Guatemalan worry doll in the pocket of her dress as a reminder to her fear that it was welcome to come along, but it wasn’t in charge. (A Still Quiet Place, p. 97)
As you can see, there are several different ways you can help your child cope with anxiety. You might also want to try some of these techniques yourself!
If you’re located in California and need help determining if your child and/or family need professional help, contact Family Spring by submitting an inquiry at this link.