Coping With Anxiety in Kids

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Did you know May is the official “Mental Health Month?” I have battled with anxiety on and off for most of my life. My anxiety centers around health phobias, and it always feels so silly but the reality is that I am not alone in my anxiety battles. It is estimated that 18% of our US population suffers from anxiety, but yet it still isn’t talked about all that openly. Women are more likely to get anxiety than men, and many people who suffer with anxiety will experience a panic attack, getting physical symptoms that can even include chest pain. 

Tips For Adults

I have learned with time, that there are things that trigger my anxiety, and are things that help to keep it at bay. Some of the most important things for me are daily exercise, getting adequate sleep, and making sure I am getting enough magnesium. Stress and anxiety deplete the magnesium in your body, and when you are low on magnesium, you are more likely to be anxious. It is a vicious cycle. I also make sure that I have a great support network of people to talk to, because keeping your anxiety in often just makes it worse. 

One thing I have learned about anxiety is that it is hereditary. This has become a burden on its own, because it is quite apparent that my oldest suffers anxiety. I worry about how that will play out throughout his life, so I decided to be proactive and teach him ways to control his emotions and anxiety. Check out some tips and ideas below. Even if anxiety isn’t a struggle in your family, I promise these are helpful tips to get through those toddler and preschool tantrums too! 

Tips To Help

Here are some of my favorite ways to help a child stay in the moment mentally:

  • “I Spy” – This is a variation on the classic game. Essentially, when your child is anxious, you want to bring them to the present to get past the thought that they are anxious about. So, challenge them to look around the room and notice things they have never noticed before, like a crack in the ceiling or a pattern on the wood. They need to be silent and look for 1 minute. After 1 minute, you should each share the most interesting thing you found. 
  • Listen closely – Sometimes, to be present, we have to engage our senses. This one engages our sense of sound. Ring a bell, wind chime, or anything that creates a sound that lingers. Ask your child to listen and then raise their hand (or clap) when they can’t hear the sound anymore. Then, challenge them to find other sounds that ring for awhile. Ask them to pay attention to the various sounds they are hearing, and even name them! 
  • Sense of Touch – Help your child come to the moment by paying attention to their sense of touch! Place various objects in your child’s hand, and ask them to pay attention to how it feels. They can look at texture, shape, hardness or softness, etc. Vary the objects, like a coin and a feather, or putty and stones. It gives them something physical to focus their thoughts on. 

Here are some tips to help a child relax their body when they are anxious (or when they are having a tantrum even!)

  • Animal Breaths: This is actually a yoga technique for kids. There are several animal breaths to try. 
    • In bumblebee breath, your child should breathe in slowly for 3-5 seconds, then “buzz” out the air, doing it as slowly as they can.

      Exhale and lower down for elephant breath.
    • For bunny breath, children take in 5 quick breaths through their nose, and then 3 slower exhales through their month (Sniff, sniff, sniff, sniff, sniff; then “whoo” out their mouth three times).
    • For elephant breath, they pair in a movement. They should bring their hands together to make a trunk. They inhale and reach their hands up over their head, and as they exhale they bend forward, dropping their “trunk” between their legs. 
  • Ocean breathing: Have your child lay down in a comfortable position. They should breath in slowly through their noses, and then exhale through pursed lips (like they are blowing through a straw). Explain that together you are trying to sound like the ocean! 
  • Spaghetti body – This is one of my favorites! When children are throwing a tantrum, are very upset, or are anxious, they tighten up their bodies (just like adults do). Remind them that they can turn their body into wet spaghetti noodles. Explain that you will say body parts, and when you do, they should tighten the body part for 3 seconds, and then wiggle it loose. You run through their feet, lets, bottom, arms, stomach, neck, head, hands, etc. They should feel loose and wiggly all over. Try to get them laughing and relaxed.
  • The Hand Mashers – Sometimes exerting energy through your hands is very stress relieving. Have your child hold out their palms, and make straight, tight hands. They should then put the hands together, like “prayer hands.” They should push their hands together as hard as they can for 10 seconds. This takes focus for them, and helps them get some of that energy and frustration out.  

One of my favorite books to help children deal with their emotions is “You’re a Crab: The Moody Day Book.” I can’t recommend it enough, as it really helped my son understand his emotions. 

Again – battling anxiety is something we can’t control, but just as we can learn tips to manage ours, we can also teach our children tips to manage their anxiety. These tips also work great for just helping your young child learning to handle their emotions and frustrations.  Do you have any great techniques for your kids? Share them in the comments below!