Watching children work through a bout of anxiety is one of the hardest things a parent can do. You feel helpless to make them feel better. It seems like no amount of reassurance will pacify and reduce anxiety in your kids.
Anxiety is rising in children, affecting nearly 12% of kids aged 3-17. If your child is one of the many who’ve developed this condition, you have options for helping them reduce their anxiety. As their parent, you can safely teach them strategies for improving their symptoms and decreasing their high anxiety moments. This list will give you a great place to start.
1. Personify Their Worry
Especially for young kids, anxiety is such an abstract idea. They have difficulty connecting their physical symptoms with triggers. Giving their worries a fun name and a personality helps them create bridges between their internal and external feelings.
When your child’s anxiety is low, and they’re able to think rationally, help them create their little person — the more details you can think of, the better. Next time anxiety bubbles up, they can talk to their worry like a friend to help calm themselves down.
2. Add Some Pressure
The pressure of unrealistic expectations can increase anxiety, but applying physical pressure is an excellent stress-relief option. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for many essential bodily functions like breathing, blinking, digesting and your heart rate. This system can experience stress and rest. When anxiety builds, your child’s autonomic system goes into stress mode, increasing their heart rate and causing rapid breathing.
Pressure all along the body can relieve these symptoms by forcing your system into a state of rest. Weighted blankets and hugs are both excellent options. When your child isn’t at home, they could learn to give themselves a big hug or ask for one from their teacher. Alternatively, you could purchase a weighted vest, which is less obvious than a blanket.
3. Teach Some Poses
Certain poses can help your child reduce anxiety and stay mindfully in the present. Standing next to a sturdy wall, have your kid squeeze their muscles and exert all their strength into pushing it over. They should push for 10 seconds, release for 10 and repeat the process until they feel calmer. This tension and release on their muscles relaxes the body relieving anxiety symptoms.
Another great option to reduce anxiety in your kids is the big cheese or superhero stance. Have your child place their hands on their hips with elbows pointing out. Their back should be slightly arched and their chin up. Holding this pose for a few minutes will boost self-confidence and lower stress hormones. Your child will feel much more capable of tackling their triggers.
4. Get Plenty of Exercise
Physical activity is a crucial element of any anxiety relief plan. Moving their body will lower your kid’s cortisol levels, helping them combat overwhelm and stress. Getting outside to play is even more beneficial since green spaces and sunlight provide your child with the necessary vitamins they need to thrive.
Try going for a bike ride together or taking a nature walk. Outdoor yoga classes are also a fun and stress-busting way to get moving. If the rain is keeping you inside, pump up the tunes and have a family dance party in the living room. Any movement will do.
5. Help Them Climb the Ladder
As a parent, it’s probably your instinct to help your child avoid every anxiety trigger. However, that practice is doing them more harm than good in the long term.
That’s where laddering steps in — it’s a way to increase tolerance for a specific trigger gradually. For example, if your kid is terrified of snakes, you could start by looking at pictures of snakes, then watching a cartoon movie with a snake, then a live-action film and slowly work up to being in the same room as a snake. Each step lasts as long as it takes for your child to become accustomed to that level of exposure.
6. Talk to a Therapist
Most kids would greatly benefit from seeing a therapist to discuss their anxiety experience. Having a non-judgemental third-party can give your child a safe space to let everything out. The therapist can then provide recommendations for tools and strategies and help you create a laddering plan to work on at home.
7. Keep Their Hands Busy
Keeping physically busy is a distraction from everyday anxieties. Encourage your child to cultivate a hobby like gardening or art that occupies their time and can crowd out some of their intrusive thoughts.
Fidgets and squeezable toys also help reduce anxiety. They keep your kid’s hands busy and provide an outlet for the twitchy energy stemming from increased stress levels.
Create a checklist to reduce anxiety in your kids
Each of these anxiety reduction tactics is useful on its own, but they become even more powerful as part of a toolkit or checklist. When your child is in the midst of a high anxiety moment or panic attack, they can’t think clearly. Their response needs to be automatic.
Equipping them with a list of techniques they can use will remove the guesswork and decision-making, and ultimately reduce anxiety in your kids. Your child can start at the top of the list and work their way down until the anxiety abates. You can give them a physical list at first. After a while of use, they’ll have it memorized and no longer need the visual reminder.
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