Anxiety can be a brutal thing to have to deal with as an adult. But as a child, the mind of which hasn’t fully even formed yet, it can be a doubly scary experience. They may not necessarily always know how to communicate exactly the feelings they are experiencing at that moment. It is up to us adults to help children living with anxiety, and help them to learn how to cope with their feelings in a healthy way. Here are five strategies to help anxious kids.
Before we delve into anything, the first thing you have to do is to identify the source of the child’s anxiety. Is it social situations, something happening in school, anxiety about something within the family? Without trying to trigger your child into a panicked state, try to sit them down and speak about what is upsetting them. If they can’t talk about it at that particular time, that’s okay, too. It may come out in time.
1Do Not Avoid Anxiety-Inducing Situations
You may be scratching your head at this one. But by avoiding your child’s anxieties, you’re actually making them out to be bigger than they actually are. Take them out often and tackle the anxiety head-on, together. While this may seem counterintuitive, exposure therapy will actually help them to gradually reduce anxiety over time.
Encouraging your child to “sit with their stressors” will help them realize that they really aren’t in danger and that you are right there beside them to guide them and help them along the way. It also kind of gives the child a sense of empowerment over their anxiety. Perhaps they can visualize their anxiety getting smaller as they face it more. But as always, you know your child best, and you’ll know when to give them a little nudge, and when to back off a bit.
2Positive Talk And Praise
Even though it may be hard to be upbeat all the time, our emotions can boil over and our children can soak them up like sponges – which only heightens their anxiety. So, positive talk is important, especially when it comes to our children. When they become anxious, encourage them to sit with their anxiety. Tell them that you believe in them. When you believe in them, they’ll begin to believe in themselves, too.
Give them praise along the way. Say things like, “You can do it, I know you can,” may be a small statement, but can go a long way for your child. Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone a little bit, if they are ready. Praise them, even for the smallest victories. Even if they just went over to the playground and played around other children, you could say something along the lines of “I like how you went over to the playground, I’m proud of you!”
3Have A “Calming Corner”
Have you and your child choose a place in your home together to create what is called a “calming corner,” where when they get too anxious and are at home and need to calm down, they have a place that they feel safe and can go to. Help build it together. Obviously, it doesn’t exactly have to be a corner. Maybe it could be something like an indoor tent that they feel safe in.
Include items that comfort them. Maybe a favorite stuffed animal, a beloved book, a picture of you and your child together. You can even go so far as to put a “calming kit” in, which could be a box that could hold things like a coloring book, crayons or a fidget toy to help them calm down. Find things that make them feel safe. This “Calming Corner,” acts as a safe place for your child to go when everything becomes too much for them.
4Have A List Of Coping Skills
An anxiety attack can be scary. But having a list of coping skills that they can use in times of distress can help. These may include things like using their senses to establish their surroundings. This is a great grounding exercise. Ask them to close their eyes, and ask what they hear, what they smell, what the chair they’re sitting on feels like, what they taste, and finally have them open their eyes and ask them what they see.
Other great techniques include singing a favorite song, trying to say the alphabet backward, counting to 100, or having a stress ball on hand that they can squeeze. Try to come up with some ideas of your own that may comfort your child.
This is a tried and true technique that can help anybody – anxiety or not. When we focus on our breath, we focus on our minds and our bodies. The same goes for our children. If you wish, you can take them to their pediatrician or therapist and ask them to teach you both deep breathing exercises. Then, you can take it one step further – with each breath, on the inhale, ask your child to think of something that makes them happy. On the exhale, have them tell you what that thing was.
Anxiety is scary. But with the right coping mechanisms and help, you can help your child break through their anxiety.