Anxious Child? We’ve got some tips to manage their emotions.
As an adult, our anxiety can come out in all forms of emotions and reactions. In one instance, I might be reserved and quiet, while in another, I might talk more to handle that anxious feeling. Over the years, I have come to understand what I need depending on the anxious situation. However, what is manageable for adults can sometimes feel completely overwhelming and confusing to children. They may be experiencing certain feelings for the first time, so it’s hard for them to process how to handle them.
Not surprisingly, the same solutions that calm us down, can also calm down our children. They just don’t have all the years of experience and trial-and-error that we have under our belts. Our hardest job is to recognize the anxiety in all its forms and suggest solutions they will appreciate. Teaching them earlier than we were taught will give them a fighting chance when stress is high and anxiety builds.
Here are ways to help your child (and, honestly, yourself) relieve anxiety.
When my children were in kindergarten, they were blessed with a teacher that understood the power of meditation. After recess, the children were encouraged to relax at their desk for a few minutes. They’d lay their heads down on their crossed arms, and listen to some soft music. This early form of meditation was further developed each year. And while my boys might not sit and meditate every day, my oldest has been known to sit outside and have a solitary moment of deep breaths before he takes on studying for an exam. There is no need to enroll in a meditation class and learn how to sit still for hours; what matters is helping your child calm his/her mind and focus on breathing.
This year, our school has introduced a third recess during the course of the school day. Pediatric studies have been done with regards to recess time. The conclusion was made that recess not only benefits a child’s physical state, but their cognitive state as well,allowing them to perform better with school work after a recess. When children reach middle school, however, break times seem to be less important and more confined to indoors. Encouraging your child to get outside, even after school, is a great way to help them feel refreshed and ready to take on any anxiety they may face afterwards.
Having family meals is invaluable to children for so many reasons. Mainly, it is a perfect time to express how their day went in a safe environment, surrounded by the people who love them most. If you find it challenging to get your child to share, take the lead and start the conversation with a run-down of your day. “It made me so happy today when Auntie Jane called!”, “When I got a flat tire on my way to work, it made me angry and frustrated”. Helping your child name a good thing and a bad thing that happened during their day will kick-start the conversation.
Anxiety has a bad way of causing us to doubt ourselves and fear things that might otherwise be manageable. To quiet the negative voice inside your child’s head, consider journaling. Depending on the age of the child, you might want to introduce journaling with actual prompts. Creating a mini template of questions to answer can help them get started. A few examples are:
“What happened today that made you happy?”
“Was there anything that made you feel anxious?”
“What would have made that situation feel better?”
We have heard it all before: screen time can stimulate the brain and, in turn, cause anxiety. But I will not suggest no screen time. Instead, find family movies that help them think about difficult situations, play video games together for some healthy competition, gather together and play YouTube videos you found for them. Show your children that screen time can be awesome, even with limits.
Over the years, I have noticed that whether a child has had a healthy meal or not can impact how they react in certain situations. Ask any teacher and they will tell you the same thing. In fact, many teachers encourage kids to have a healthy snack early in the day to help them focus better. There is no doubt in my mind that when I have too much sugar or fatty foods, my mood swings to the dark side. It stands to reason children can feel the same. Homemade fruit smoothies, nuts and whole grains are great snacks. Anything with tryptophan (amino acid that produces feel-good chemicals in the brain) like turkey, bananas, peanut butter and oats are all great additions to your meals when dealing with anxiety.
Allow days with absolutely nothing to do after school. No extra activities, no sports, no errands – nothing. The goal is not to turn your child into a couch potato, but simply to let them sit in their feelings for a little while. Overscheduling can suffocate your child’s ability to truly understand their feelings, and this can lead to high anxiety when a stressful situation presents itself. Allowing down time leads to self-reflection, possible conversations, and enjoying their own company.
Looking back to your experiences as a child, and talking about how certain situations made you feel, may help your child understand they are not alone. Anxiety may cause feelings of isolation – which are often difficult to address – so finding a common feeling through shared experiences can help your child. It might also prompt them to open up to you more the next time they feel alone.
Take a Drive
You may have heard it before, but children seem to feel more comfortable talking things out over a drive. Some of the greatest conversations I have had with my boys have happened while I’m driving and they are in the back seat. One-on-one drives with your child can help them open up and express their feelings when it comes to anxiety. Something as simple as a quick drive to the grocery store will provide enough alone time to chat, even when you think there is nothing to talk about. Between car drives and late night tuck-ins to bed, lots of things will bubble to the surface.
Help Them to Fall Asleep
Based on our own experiences, falling asleep when anxious is nearly impossible. My boys have always had a hard time getting to bed, so our night time routine is long and ritualistic. One method of calming down the anxiety is putting each part of the body to sleep individually. This method helps a child relax each part of the body by focusing on it alone. The idea is to tense up each body part – for example, the calf – for a few seconds and then releasing it to go to sleep, starting from the feet and working up. The sleeping body routine takes a little practice but is beneficial and eventually children can do this on their own.
Remind Them You Are Always There
Sometimes, a child’s anxiety can be so obvious, while other times, it’s hard to know what’s on their mind. They may express their anxiety by yelling, crying or not talking at all. Parenting involves a bit of detective work, especially when it comes to understanding anxiety, but it will help your child to see that you are always there for them. No matter how small the issue or concern may seem to you, if your child is able to open up about it, you have created a bond with them. Being their safe space is golden, and it will help in years to come when the small anxieties become much bigger.
Julia Chiarella-Genoni a.k.a. Mama MOE was a freelance fashion writer before she had three wonderful children (one plus twins). Her blog, Ask Mama MOE, is all about living a family-friendly life and ranges in topics. Always in a positive tone, Ask Mama MOE is a great place for some parenting humour, DIY crafts, recipes and some deep thoughts. Reviews and giveaways are also done on products Mama MOE herself would be proud to use in her home. Be sure to check out Mama MOE’s charity, Shopping From The Heart.