Top 8 Ways to Calm and Guide Anxiety in our Kids
Anxiety as an adult is hard enough to recognize, manage, and work through. But our kiddos have been experiencing more and more anxiety in the last few decades. And let’s just recognize that 2020’s pandemic didn’t help this trend.
In our household, we’ve delt with seasons of anxiety in each of our kiddos. We’ve used many of the techniques listed below, and creatively come up with whatever can help my kiddos work through their emotions and concerns.
Disclaimer- I am not a doctor or psychologist. I am speaking from my own experiences and some of the research I have done. Source links are listed below. If you feel your child’s anxiety is affecting everyday activities, please seek medical advice.
One in five children will experience some kind of clinical-level anxiety by the time they reach adolescence, according to Danny Pine, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health and one of the world's top anxiety researchers.
Anxiety is on the rise among children and adolescents. Studies show that as many as one in eight children may experience significant anxiety. Knowledgeable observers offer a number of reasons. Perhaps most important, children’s lives have changed so that there is almost nonstop sedentary screen time at the expense of play and physical activity, experiences through which children traditionally decompress, work out their concerns, and form supportive relationships.
And what’s on those screens are, often enough, new opportunities for young people’s worry.
In addition, in almost every domain of life, there is far more uncertainty, and uncertainty breeds anxiety. In response to an array of economic and cultural shifts, parents today commonly put significantly more pressure on their children to achieve than did parents of a generation or two ago, and many children, carrying the burden of outsize expectations, worry about meeting them. Further, overprotected more than previous generations, children grow up not merely without opportunities to develop problem-solving skills but without the belief that they can adequately cope with the threats life throws their way. Helicopter parenting fosters the development of anxiety in children. (Source)
Steps to Help your Kiddo with anxiety
1. Stop trying to Reassure them
When you child is in an anxious state their brain has entered survival mode. The flight of fight mechanism is on high alert, so logically walking out of an anxious brain is just not possible. Logical thought has left and it is all emotion and survival instincts.
You must calm the survival brain before they can hear your words.
DO THESE INSTEAD:
Hug them tight
Sing their favorite song
2. Recognize the Feelings you are seeing in your child
Helping your child both recognize their feelings, and to be seen and understood by a trusted adult is a powerful tool to grow trust and confidence.
3. Take time to help your child return to a calm state
This is often the hardest, because anxiety doesn’t happen at moments full extra time, but often when you need to get to school or a doctor’s appointment. Anxiety is never convenient. But taking the time to breathe, rock in a rocking chair with cuddles or walk away from the anxious situation will do you more good than being on time somewhere.
4. Remember Anxiety has its Purpose
Anxiety is hard enough without the thoughts of ‘something is wrong with me’ adding to the situation. But to remember that worry and caution are protective mechanisms within our human brains. Reassuring your child that worry and caution are good things, and telling them you are thankful for their thoughtfulness.
5. Bring Your Child’s Worry to Life
“Bringing worry to life and talking about it like a real person can. Create a worry character for your child. In GoZen they created Widdle the Worrier. Widdle personifies anxiety. Widdle lives in the old brain that is responsible for protecting us when we're in danger. Of course, sometimes Widdle gets a little out of control and when that happens, we have to talk some sense into Widdle. You can use this same idea with a stuffed animal or even role-playing at home. Personifying worry or creating a character has multiple benefits. It can help demystify this scary physical response children experience when they worry. It can reactivate the logical brain, and it's a tool your children can use on their own at any time.” (Source)
6. Teach Your Child to Be a Thought Detective
Remember, worry is the brain's way of protecting us from danger. To make sure we're really paying attention, the mind often exaggerates the object of the worry (e.g., mistaking a stick for a snake). You may have heard that teaching your children to think more positively could calm their worries. But the best remedy for distorted thinking is not positive thinking; it's accurate thinking. Try a method we call the 3Cs:
• Catch your thoughts: Imagine every thought you have floats above your head in a bubble (like what you see in comic strips). Now, catch one of the worried thoughts like "No one at school likes me."
• Collect evidence: Next, collect evidence to support or negate this thought. Teach your child not to make judgments about what to worry about based only on feelings. Feelings are not facts. (Supporting evidence: "I had a hard time finding someone to sit with at lunch yesterday." Negating evidence: "Sherry and I do homework together--she's a friend of mine.")
• Challenge your thoughts: The best (and most entertaining) way to do this is to teach your children to have a debate within themselves. (Source)
7. Help Them Go from What If to What Is You may not know this, but humans are capable of time travel. In fact, mentally we spend a lot of time in the future. For someone experiencing anxiety, this type of mental time travel can exacerbate the worry. A typical time traveler asks what-if questions: "What if I can't open my locker and I miss class?" "What if Suzy doesn't talk to me today?" (Source)
8. Practice Self-Compassion
Watching your child suffer from anxiety can be painful, frustrating, and confusing. There is not one parent that hasn't wondered at one time or another if they are the cause of their child's anxiety. Here's the thing, research shows that anxiety is often the result of multiple factors (i.e., genes, brain physiology, temperament, environmental factors, past traumatic events, etc.). Please keep in mind, you did not cause your child's anxiety, but you can help them overcome it.
Toward the goal of a healthier life for the whole family, practice self-compassion. Remember, you're not alone, and you're not to blame. It's time to let go of debilitating self-criticism and
Love yourself. You are your child's champion.
I hope you are encouraged and equipped to help your little ones through seasons of anxiety and worry. But if you feel overwhelmed seek help.
Another helpful tool is the Emotion Wheel below, because anger and sadness are often only a part of the emotional picture. This wheel helps me start with the inner wheel and move outward to revel what's going on inside my child's heart.
Other great resources are:
Raising Boys and Girls
Books for Kids
What am I feeling? b y Dr. J Straub
Quinn's Promise Rock by Christie Thomas
Book for Adults
Triggers by Wendy Speak and Amber Lia
Good and Angry by David Powlison
Runaway Emotions by Jeff Schreve