4 Strategies to Help Your Child Manage Their Anxiety
Over the summer, my oldest was diagnosed with panic attacks. While I have battled anxiety throughout my life, it is a whole new kind of hurt to see your child dissolving into a little ball of rapid breathing, tears and hands over her ears. Sometimes, we do really well for a while. Then something small will trigger her. One day a few weeks ago, it was the sound of an ambulance blasting by us. After she was calm, she confessed she struggles with that sound because it reminds her of the day the ambulances came to our house. My father was unresponsive and staying with us at the time. Though the amazing EMTs that arrived were helping to save his life that day, she was worried they were hurting him, and her tender heart could not process that sometimes drastic measures must be taken to preserve life. Thus, the sound of an ambulance is a solid trigger for her.
We’ve experimented with many strategies to manage anxiety. To be honest, it is different for every person, and no “one size fits all” method is guaranteed to work. However, these are some things I found that have helped us.
1. Be sure your child (and/or you) is getting enough rest.
Being tired always seems to lead to an increase in anxiety in our home. As an adult, I can realize that I am not able to think rationally because I am exhausted. Children do not have that ability yet. Therefore, it is our responsibility as parents to help them regulate.
2. Tap into your child’s strengths and what they enjoy and find relaxing.
For my daughter, that is art and sensory experiences. She definitely unwinds by being artistic or squeezing a squeeze ball. She loves kinesthetic sand and slime. Though she has sensory issues with clothing, she will put her hands into just about anything. I definitely make sure we have plenty of sensory items laying around for her to decompress with.
3. There is a fine line between enabling and supporting, but I am a fan of having a place to retreat to when situations just become too overwhelming.
At my home, if the living room is too noisy and there is not a valid reason why it needs to be quiet (other than my nerves prefer it), I retreat to my bedroom or a warm bath to regulate. Perhaps, I go outside to exercise. My point is I have the option to leave the situation that is unpleasant for me. Our children should also have this option. It is imperative they have a safe, quiet place in your home to go calm themselves. If we as adults need to retreat to a quiet zone from time to time, our children should be afforded this opportunity as well.
4. Teach your child breathing techniques and progressive muscle relaxation exercises to utilize for times it would inappropriate to leave the situation.
Sometimes, we have to have an unpleasant conversation, or we have to do something we do not wish to do. In those instances, having coping skills is important. Positive self-affirming talk, breathing exercises, being intentional about relaxing our jaw and shoulders are all examples of strategies your child can utilize.
There is also a wealth of literature out there that help children learn more about anxiety, identifying their triggers, and brainstorming solutions for when they feel anxious. Here are some of my favorites!
- “A Little Spot of Anxiety” by Diane Alber
- “Ruby Finds a Worry” by Tom Percival
- “Worry Says What” by Allison Edwards
- “Wemberly Worried” by Kevin Henkes
- “Wilma Jean, the Worry Machine” by Julia Cook
- “Anxious Ninja” by Mary Nhin
Anxiety is a lifelong battle, and what works well at one point in life might prove ineffective in new situations. Flexibility and a willingness to experiment with what is working well for your child at that particular space in time is key in assisting them with learning to manage their anxiety and not let it hinder how successful they are.
Getty image by Tetiana Garkusha