Whether it’s about monsters, a test, or even big-picture issues like the environment, kids of all ages will experience stress at some point. Helping your anxious child through natural calming techniques not only lets them face their fears now, but can set them up with the skills they’ll need to handle stressful situations as an adult. Here are a few simple things you can do to help calm your child when he or she is feeling overwhelmed.
Simple relaxation exercises are a great tool for a worked-up child to come down from moments of anxiety. Focusing on the physiological aspects first—rather than trying to talk things through—tends to work better with children, especially young ones who aren’t able to express themselves well with words.
One of the easiest techniques is focused breathing. Take your child’s hands, look him in the eyes, and ask him to take a few deep breaths. You can also try taking a deep breath with him and then counting to five. Another method is to have your child lay down, close his eyes, and place his hands on his belly to feel the air moving in and out. Keep in mind that belly-breathing is more efficient (and therefore more pacifying) than chest-breathing. I taught my daughter these things when she was just two; since then, she’s even reminded me a few times to breathe when I seem stressed!
Acknowledge Their Feelings
When helping your anxious child deal with certain fears, it’s tempting to sweep them aside on the basis of “there’s nothing to worry about.” Naturally you want to protect your children and prove some things just aren’t worth fearing, but in doing so you might be invalidating a sensation they feel they have little control over.
Acknowledging fears, and all feelings in general, is an important part of helping your child deal with those emotions. Often when my daughter feels anxious, I tell her, “I can see that you’re feeling worried. Can you tell me why?” Just having her feelings heard and discussed calms her down.
Take Time to Unwind
Just like you, kids can undergo anxiety simply from being tired and overscheduled. Whether it’s a few minutes reading a book together, going for a leisurely walk, or taking a relaxing bath before bedtime, find at least one brief moment every day for downtime that’s focused on nothing other than enjoying the present moment.
You can teach your little one how to practice mindfulness, too, by playing a sensory game. Ask questions related to the sounds you hear as you both walk the dog, or what the shampoo you use smells like when giving them a bath. This allows them to associate daily activities with inherently peaceful stimuli.
Stay Positive before Bedtime
Even after a soothing bath and calming bedtime routine, nighttime is typically when my daughter’s anxieties come out. She starts expressing worries about the next day or something that already happened as I tuck her in. I try to redirect her thoughts to positive ones by having her write in a journal about her favorite part of the day. While you want her to open up and discuss her feelings, try to get her to do that during the day, rather than right before going to sleep when it’s easier to dwell on them as she drifts off.
Don’t Avoid It and Always Practice
When you become aware that certain situations or activities can be a trigger for anxiety, it’s tempting to avoid the situation entirely. But it’s actually better to allow your child to face those triggers and work through them instead. My daughter is in the midst of her first year of school as a kindergartner and has had many new things to encounter, one of which is fire drills at school. She became so anxious about the loud noise of the bells during the drills that she asked to stay home on the days that fire drills were scheduled.
Although her peace of mind is my biggest concern, I knew letting her stay home wouldn’t help her grow from it. I explained that the reason for the drills is so that if there is an emergency, she would know what to do and be safe. We also came up with our own plan on what to do in the event of a fire at home and practiced our own drills. Now, she genuinely looks forward to the drills at school so that she can prove she can take care of herself.
One of the best ways to make these techniques effective in helping your anxious child is by using them too. When kids see you overcome a stressful moment by taking deep breaths, or setting aside time to unwind each day, they’ll learn to adopt the same behaviors through your example.
What anxiety-reducing methods work for your kids? Tell @TomsofMaine!
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.