If your child shows symptoms of anxiety, they’re not alone: one in every five children will experience some kind of clinical-level anxiety by the time they reach adolescence, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
One of the best ways to support your child’s anxiety is to provide them with a toolbox to manage their intrusive thoughts and anxious feelings. If you’re wondering about the best ways to support your child through these emotions, we’re here to help.
Even if your child doesn’t frequently show symptoms of anxiety, teaching these strategies at an early age can be incredibly helpful as they age. No matter your circumstances or your history, everyone experiences stress or anxiety at some point in life. Thank you for Save the Children and Conscious Discipline for these great techniques!
Although we can’t shield our children from stress, we can provide them with healthier ways of responding to stress and anxiety—including through the practice of deep breathing. Deep breathing can invoke the relaxation response, a technique first developed in the 1970s at Harvard Medical School, which has numerous benefits.
All you have to do is pretend you have a nice-smelling flower in one hand and a slow-burning candle in the other. Then, encourage your child to breathe in slowly through their nose as they smell the flower—and then breathe out slowly through their mouth, blowing out the candle. Repeat this process a few times and see how your child feels.
Invite your child to imagine they have a lemon in each hand. Then, reach up to a tree and pick another lemon. Squeeze the lemons hard to get all of the juice out, throw the lemons on the floor, and relax your hands.
Repeat this process until you have enough juice for your imaginary glass of lemonade!
The popular yoga pose can be a great exercise for children. Get down on the floor, on your hands and knees, and yawn big. Then curve your back upwards like a cat—before curling back down, like a cow. Perform this exercise slowly a few times, encouraging your child to focus on their breathing.
A popular strategy developed by Conscious Discipline, the pretzel breathing technique is a quick 1-minute exercise that helps children settle and relax. To practice the pretzel breathing technique, check out this short video and demonstration!
Repeat this exercise as often as needed for your child to feel less anxious.
One of four core calming activities used in Conscious Discipline, the Drain is depicted as a faucet draining the stress out of the body.
1. Stretch your arms out in front of you
2. Squinch up your face, shrug your shoulders up toward your ears, and squeeze your fists
3. Take a deep breath in through your nose
4. Exhale through your mouth
5. Relax your muscles and let all of the stress and tightness drain out of your body
If you’re looking for a fun crafting activity that also emphasizes breathing and relaxation, try Conscious Discipline’s Breathing S.T.A.R., which stands for Smile, Take a deep breath, And Relax.
You can download a printable template with instructions on how to make a star from Conscious Discipline here. This exercise helps with self-regulation, active calming, fussing and fits, self-control, and emotional intelligence.
If your child holds their anxiety or worry in their muscles, try the feather and statue exercise. Prompt your child to pretend they are a feather, floating through the air, for about ten seconds.
Then, prompt them to freeze and transform into a statute—they must remain motionless! Then, encourage them to slowly relax as they transform back into a floating feather again.
Repeat this process until your child feels more relaxed.
When a child is anxious, they often experience a fight, flight, freeze, or fawn stress response. During this experience, the body’s sympathetic nervous system activates and releases adrenaline and noradrenaline, which boosts heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.
Once the threat—either real or perceived—disappears, it takes between 20 and 60 minutes for the body to return to normal levels.
As adults, our natural response to a child’s anxiety is typically along the lines of logic or reason. We might try to reason with our child or even talk them out of their anxieties or their fears. However, when a child is in that fight, flight, freeze, or fawn stress mode, it’s highly unlikely for their brains to be able to think with logic or even control their behavior and emotions.
If your child is suffering from severe anxiety and you’d like to seek the help of a professional therapist, we suggest asking for a recommendation from your family’s pediatrician.
If you’d like to learn more about helping your child navigate anxiety, here are a few books that may be a great resource:
Questions? We’re here to connect you with the right resources so your family can thrive. Click here to learn more about how we support children’s mental health.