How to Soothe an Anxious Child
When adults think about kids we often envision happy and excited little creatures that don’t have a care in the world. Now that’s not usually too far off from reality but this assumption neglects to take into consideration the extensive range of emotions our children are capable of experiencing. Along with happiness, comes sadness. Along with sadness, comes fear. And along with fear, comes stress and anxiety.
Even children as young as 6 months old can experience anxiety (which is known as separation anxiety). As our children get a little older – and they enroll in school or daycare – they begin to encounter all sorts of new experiences. Along with new experiences come new stressors such as school requirements, deadlines, and social pressure. Even though they may feel stressed or anxious, they may not have the vocabulary to tell you about it.
As a result, you may see changes in your child’s behavior. They may start to act up at school or at home. They might start to have trouble sleeping. They might even have trouble focusing or paying attention in class. Anxiety symptoms are often mistaken for other issues like ADHD or behavioral issues and can lead to misdiagnosis or the introduction of unnecessary medications. If you notice a sudden behavior change or suspect your child is experiencing stress or anxiety, you may be able to help them at home by trying some of the following techniques:
Deep breathing is just as effective for children as it is for adults. If you teach your child how to deep breathe when they aren’t anxious they’ll be able to use this technique when it matters the most. In order to do deep breathing the correct way, you need to explain to your child that they need to draw air all the way into their belly. Have your child place a hand on their chest and a hand on their stomach. Have them take a big, deep breath in though their nose and out through their mouth.
Get some bubbles out and make it fun! Instruct your child to smell the bubbles and the blow the bubbles. Make sure they are expelling all of the air out of their lungs before taking another deep breath. If you have a very young child you could keep bubbles on you at all times. They’re magic! It’s amazing how therapeutic blowing bubbles can be!
When we get anxious our body will often tense up. We might clench our jaws or draw up our shoulders. Squeezing our muscles tight as we breathe in and relaxing our muscles as we breathe out is a great way to relieve the tension that comes along with anxiety. Teaching your child how to relax will set them up with another great tool for combating anxiety. One fun, kid friendly way to do this is to have your child pretend he or she is a robot. Have him or her tense up their muscles and act like a bot for a bit. Then have them get loose like a noodle. Practice this each night before bed!
Guided imagery is the act of closing your eyes and picturing a safe place that is calm and relaxing. Have your kid think of a place that is relaxing to them. It can be real or imaginary. Next, have your child draw a picture of this place. Then ask them questions about what they would hear, see, smell, touch, and taste to help them get as vivid of an experience as possible. Once you have all of that information, have them close their eyes and imagine that place. Lead them through it. Talk about the sensory information you gave them and help them picture this place in their head. The more your child practices this, the easier it will get for them to draw this place up in their mind.
Coping cards are great because they’re a physical reminder of what they can do if they feel anxious. Cut out rectangular pieces of construction paper that will fit in your child’s hand. Come up with a list of things you child can do when they feel anxious that will help them calm down (i.e. deep breathing, play outside, talk to a grown up, etc.) Have them draw a picture of each skill on a separate card and have the deck handy at all times. Laminate the cards if you can – this will help them last!
Encourage physical activity
Physical activity is super important for managing stress and anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins which decrease anxiety and increase feelings of happiness. Make sure your child is playing outside or involved in some sort of sport as often as possible. Studies show that kids need at least 3 hours outside a day. This is something that our culture is lacking. Even if your child isn’t getting much outside time during school hours, you can still encourage them to spend time outdoors when they get home from school. I know you probably have a busy schedule and need your kids to get homework done so you can eat and get ready for bed but trust me! You won’t regret giving your kid the time they need to be a kid. You could also implement some sort of routine at home that includes the whole family! The best way to teach a child is to lead by example – a child is more likely to be active if they see their parent doing it, too!
What are some ways you help your child feel less anxious? Let me know in the comments! If you have a child that has trouble dealing with stress and would like help generating ideas for how to help them relax, check out Parent Coaching Services with Leanne Pilgrim. Click here to schedule your FREE consultation!