A dear friend asked me a couple months ago for suggestions with helping kids with anxiety. These suggestions come from my experience as a mental health professional, a mom, and a human with anxiety. Here is what you need to know, and some ideas on how to help your child cope.
Anxiety presents differently in young kids than in adults
It will often present itself as physical symptoms, such as a stomach ache. This can happen with adults too, but since kids are still figuring out their emotions, how they work, and what triggers them, they don’t always recognize negative feelings for what they are. Help them connect the dots between their feelings and physical symptoms.
Kids generally don’t sit and talk about their feelings
If you want to create an opportunity for your child to talk to you about their feelings, pull out a game. Invite them to help you in the kitchen or the garden. Maybe ask them to go for a walk to the park, or if they want to take the dog for a walk with you. When I would do counseling with kids, I always had an activity for us to complete during the session. Most kids just aren’t built to sit and talk. (Psst..many adults struggle with this too!).
Put the phone down. Let them know that you are there for them. Kids will often ask for what they need and want. Listen to them. If they are very young (or non-verbal/have a limited vocabulary) they will often do what they need. When my little toddler wants a kiss, he’ll put his cheek right up against my face and push against me until I give him a kiss. If he wants me to pick him up, he’ll grab my hands and put them under his arms. Kids will give cues as to what they need, watch for them. This can both prevent feelings of anxiety, and help them cope when they make an appearance.
Allow them to creatively express their feelings
Adults need creative outlets, kids are no different in this regard. Crayons, play dough, paint, anything that will allow them to creatively express themselves is a must. It might even be making mud pies, arranging dry rice…it really can be anything.
Feelings worksheets can be awesome tools
A coloring sheet depicting different emotions? Maybe even something they can refer to later to describe their emotions. I used these all the time when I would do counseling with kids.
For older kids, worksheets connecting emotions to actions and situations such as “When _____, I feel____” are excellent.
Pull out some bubbles. They will need to inhale fairly deep and exhale deep as well to blow bubbles. Its a fun and sneaky way to get your kiddo to do some deep breathing.
Don’t have bubbles on hand? No problem! Have them form a bubble with their hands. They can even say “pop!” or any other goofy word, when their hand bubble pops.
Some basic poses will either be calming for your little human or make them giggle. Either way, they will feel better. Even just stretching can do the trick.
Change of scenery
Are you out in public and it is becoming overwhelming for them? Or are you home and they are going a little stir crazy? A change of scenery can do wonders to calm some anxiety.
Just like adults, technology is just fine in moderation but too much can result in feelings of anxiety and other issues. I am by no means saying ditch all technology. Moderation is key. Sometimes our personal sanity reaches its breaking point and we need a reprieve so we put a movie on for our kiddo we can hide in the kitchen and eat some chocolate (Not based on an actual experience 😉)
There is something about a nice weighted blanket that can calm the soul. It makes you feel grounded. There is something about that weight that is just soothing. We had them on hand back when I worked solely with children. Some of the kids loved them. There would be days that I would grab one and put it on my own lap while I completed my daily paperwork. It helped me to come down from my stress of the day and focus on recording my clients progress.
Take turns telling a story. It can be serious. It can be goofy. The purpose is to engage their creative thinking, and take them out of the moment for second.
If they are older, they can read independently. If they are younger, read them a book. Get some cuddles while you are at it. The purpose is to go some where else for a little while, to leave those stressful emotions behind.
Allow them to help create their own plan
Kids deserve more credit than they often get. While they are still just figuring out their emotions, they know what they like to do. They might even know what keeps them calm, and what makes them feel better. Help them make a short list of ideas of what you can do together next time they feel anxious.
Your personal mental health
Kids pick up more than you would think. Do what you need to for you to manage your anxiety or depression. Don’t feel that you need to hide it from your kids, but do all you can to manage it appropriately. Maybe some of the techniques you use could work for your kiddo.
How do you help your children manage anxiety or other similar struggles?