Anxiety is a natural part of life and certainly not limited to adults. Children can experience anxiety, too, often triggered by various factors such as school, social interactions, family changes, or traumatic life events.
As parents and caregivers, it’s essential to provide support and guidance to help children manage their anxiety effectively. In this blog, we will explore strategies and techniques to assist children in coping with anxiety.
BLOOM is here with online support for you and your child. With our unique set of mind and body techniques, help your child learn to regulate those anxious feelings before they get out of control. Discover our new course about Anxiety.
6 Ways to Help Your Child With Anxiety
Children with anxiety are frequently in a state of dysregulation, as their bodies are constantly anxious and alert for the next perceived danger, whether it's an emotional or physical factor that they perceive as threatening.
So, which techniques have we seen parents/caregivers successfully use to promote self-regulation in children with anxiety?
- Acupressure: very gently press with your fingers on the top of your child's eyebrows in the middle, then on the two sides of the eyes, and then under the eyes. Under the eyes are often found to be the most calming.
- Oral or Mouth: Give them something tart to eat, like dried fruit, or something crunchy or sour, like pickles or olives.
- Physical: Engage the vestibular system by hanging upside down, doing a downward facing dog, standing or putting your head downward or shaking your head side to side.
- Use the Bathroom: urination or defection helps to regulate the nervous system.
- Fresh Air: Get a breath of cold air either from outside or the freezer. Some people are helped by cold air and some by the warm mist of a shower.
- Breathing Techninques: Practice deep belly exhales. The inhale is not as important as the exhale.
Activities to Improve Your Child’s Anxiety
Other times, pointed activities are recommended for parents to use at home to work on improving their child's self-regulation skills and reducing their anxiety:
- Teach Your Child to Recognize Emotions: When you see dysregulated behavior in the making, you can take your child aside and say, “I'm giving you this gum to chew because I can see that you are having a hard time staying calm and this will help you relax.” We are not rewarding your child for misbehavior; we are teaching him the ability to be aware of his emotions and what he can do to self-soothe in situations where he feels angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, or anxious. This learning process must motivate a child, which is why I recommend regulators like gum or frozen juice cubes. The way to say it is to specify, "I know that gum or grape juice ice cubes help you feel calmer; here you go..”
Over time, your child will be able to recognize the symptoms of dysregulation in himself and come to you asking for the gum to help him calm down. Once you get there, you have achieved a crucial milestone in your child’s emotional development- the ability to self-regulate. At this point, it's okay that they may be taking advantage of the system, so long as it comes with a learning curve where the child is using the regulator BEFORE he acts out.
When you get to the point that your child is quite consistently asking for the “regulator”--the gum, sour gummy bear, grape juice ice cube, or piece of dried fruit….and you are not comfortable with having your child, let’s say, chewing gum so often, find a healthier option to take its place such as getting a blast of cold air, hanging upside down or one of the other techniques mentioned above.
- Engage in Movement: Caregivers can teach their children that movement is a very effective way to keep regulated. Movement produces a hormone called endorphins, which decrease anxiety. This is particularly good when doing movements that engage and strengthen the core. Even if the weather is cold, you can engage your child in indoor movement!
For example, if you have a ball at least the size of the child’s belly, have them sit on it and get them bouncing up and down to a rhythm. Balancing scales, bear walking, or even walking outside along a narrow surface holding your child’s hand are all great ideas.
- Focus on Breathwork: Teaching your child to regulate their breathing is a valuable tool for them to be able to regulate their emotions.
Here is a fun activity to help them learn how to take deep, calming inhales and exhales:
Not only does this activity promote deeper, healthier breathing, but it also helps a child focus his breaths as you would when meditating, and it can also be a great way of helping your child strengthen his ability to recover and calm down after an upset. Your child is given balloons and begins to blow one. If your child is small, squat down behind him; otherwise, standing behind him is perfect. Place both hands on his last few ribs on both sides of the rib cage. Your child will deeply exhale in order to blow up his balloon, and as he does, press in firmly on the ribcage using your palms, not your fingertips. When he pauses from blowing and takes a deep breath in, release your hands to rest lightly on his ribcage. If possible, repeat several times until he has blown up a couple of balloons. You can also try these cute plastic balloons.
- Set Realistic Expectations: Sometimes, anxiety can stem from excessive pressure to meet high expectations. Set realistic and achievable goals for your child, considering their abilities and interests. Encourage them to do their best, but don’t push them beyond their limits. If there is a stressful situation happening at home or in their community, it also affects how much expectation to have of them.
- Establish a Routine: Children often feel more secure when they have a structured routine. Consistent schedules for meals, sleep, and homework can provide a sense of stability that may reduce anxiety. If it’s an unstructured time period, you can help routinizing certain times of the day, such as meal time or outdoor play time.
- Lead by Example: Children often learn from the behavior of adults. Model healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety in your own life. Let your child know you’re feeling stressed or worried and what you are doing to help yourself. This can have a positive impact on your child’s ability to cope.
Support for Children With Anxiety
Helping children with anxiety is an ongoing process that requires patience and understanding. By creating a supportive environment and teaching coping skills, you can empower your child to manage their anxiety and lead a healthier, happier life.
Remember, every child is unique, and the strategies that work best may vary from one individual child to another. Whether you or your child are experiencing anxiety, stress, or trauma, BLOOM is here for you. With online courses, we provide support through easy-to-access content on a variety of topics, including Anxiety, Emotional Control and Regulation, Fear, Anxiety, Stress and Phobia, and more.