It can be hard to witness a child who is dealing with chronic anxiety; and, unfortunately, recent statistics indicate that the number of children experiencing anxiety and anxiety-related symptoms is on the rise. According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 4.4 million of children in the U.S. had a diagnosed anxiety disorder in 2012, which was an increase from previous years. While anxiety might show up differently in every child, there are similar ways that parents and caregivers can respond to help ease the symptoms. By utilizing the strategies below, the goal is not to “fix” the source of stress, rather show children healthier, alternative behaviors to cope with anxiety.
Hug and empathize: The most important thing a parent can do for an anxious child is to be present, patient, and empathetic. Use your bond to create a safe space for your child to share what is worrying them and offer appropriate support and reassurance.
Validate: Often, well-intended and loving caregivers may engage in conversations that can feel dismissive to a child’s worry and anxiety. Instead of the common phrases below, try an alternative instead: Instead of: Don’t worry. Try: Can you tell me more about what is worrying you? Instead of: There is nothing to be afraid of. Try: I am here to help you. Instead of: Just stop thinking about it. Try: Let’s try taking a deep breath together.
Embrace your mistakes: The most powerful influence in a young child’s life is their parent or caregiver. By demonstrating and normalizing that mistakes are not only acceptable but to be expected, this can set the precedent that mistakes are not always something to fear.
Deep breathing-Rainbow Breathing: Teach your child to “breathe the rainbow” by taking deep breaths and thinking about their favorite thing that matches each color.-Balloon Breathing: Teach your child to take slow, deep breaths and imagine they are inflating and deflating a balloon. They can try this with their eyes closed and picture the image of a balloon.
Worry Box: This strategy is particularly helpful for children who have sleep disturbances due to excessive worry or anxiety. Have your child decorate a “worry box” however they would like. At the end of each day, your child can write their worry/worries of the day, share them with you, and place them in the box. Offer to hold the worries for them while they sleep and take the box out of their room for the night.
Grounding: Anxiety is often rooted in fear of the future, and this technique can help to anchor a child in the present moment. There are many different types of grounding techniques, all with the purpose to help calm a child in crisis. One way to achieve this is to engage the senses by asking your child to do the following: Name 5 things they can see, name 4 things they can feel, name 3 things they can hear, name 2 things they can smell, name 1 thing they can taste.●
Relaxation Toolbox: Fill a box with relaxing toys or activities chosen by your child. This can include coloring book, relaxing music, puzzles, tactile tools (fidget spinners, play-doh, etc.). Keep this in a relaxing space in your home for your child to use when needed.
Create a character: Help your child create a character that represents their anxiety (i.e. the green, furry, worry monster). When they are feeling anxious, they can talk directly to this character in order to regain control over their thoughts.If you’d like to learn more about managing and understanding anxiety in children, teenagers or adults please email Jennifer Bartlett, LPC-Intern.