Racing heart, racing thoughts, can’t sleep, headaches, stomachaches, sweaty palms…. anxiety is so uncomfortable. Most of us have had some of these symptoms at one time or another. For some, only before they make a big presentation, for others, it’s an everyday occurrence. Many people don’t even realize they have anxiety. They visit doctors thinking their headaches are caused from brain tumors, and their stomachs aches are some kind of parasite. Don’t get me wrong; go to the doctor if you have chronic headaches and stomachaches, however, don’t rule out anxiety as a cause or a contributor.
Anxiety is very pervasive. We are taught to ignore it. To acknowledge we have it is to admit to weakness. But the truth is, it’s normal to have anxiety from time to time and it should be ok to admit it.
It’s not any different with kids. They also experience anxiety but they might not realize it or they might not want to admit it. Many kids do not have the language to articulate what they are feeling so instead they might act out or withdraw.
It is important for us, as parents, to realize that anxiety exists and will most likely pop up at some point in our kids’ lives. We would be doing our kids a service to teach them basic coping techniques, not only to help them when they are experiencing anxiety, but as a preventative measure before they even become anxious.
If you know significant stressors will be coming up in your child’s life- moving, new school, new baby, try outs for the soccer team- introduce them to coping skills, have them practice them, practice with them. Give them the language needed to articulate and name what is going on in their body and give them some tools to get rid of it.
There are many great resources for handling anxiety and you can find some helpful websites on my resources page that provide some great techniques and information. But I did want to point out a few techniques that I have used with clients and myself.
Deep Breathing- I can’t say enough about deep breathing, also known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing. We have introduced it to our 2 year old, and when he starts crying we remind him to breathe. You would be amazed at how quickly it helps to calm him down.
The technique: With one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, take a deep breath in through the nose. The goal is to get the oxygen into your diaphragm and not your chest so you want to see your diaphragm inflate. Inhale until a count of 4 and then exhale through your mouth very slowly, or until a count of 6. Try to practice this technique for 10 minutes a day.
For younger kids you may want to get a little more creative. Blowing big bubbles is a great way to introduce children to deep breathing because they have to take big breaths and exhale very slowly so that the bubble won’t pop. You can tell them that they are blowing their worries away. They can then pop the bubbles.
Another option that Stress.org recommends is Teddy Bear Breathing. Have your child lie down and place a teddy bear on their belly button. Encourage them to breath in and out slowly so that the teddy bear rises and falls on their belly.
Once they have the practice of breathing down you can introduce Snowglobes as something for kids to focus on while they breath. Shake them up and breath until the snow settles. I think they serve as a great metaphor for what is going on inside of the body when anxious. Also known as Calm Down Jars, here is a simple travel version you can make at home that is perfect for our TCKs lifestyle using only water and glitter.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a relaxation technique where you tense and relax all of your muscles. I was taught this technique as a teenager and to this day I still use it when I can’t sleep. Teenagers can use the same type of script as an adult and once taught can practice on their own. Younger kids will most likely need more direction like this script for example and they will need you to to practice with them.
Providing your kids with some extra tools like these can really help them during high anxiety moments. Try them out and see how it goes. Check out the resources page for additional ideas.
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Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or mental disorder. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on our site.
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