Just like adults, children are not immune to anxiety. Far from it.
In one form or another, anxiety happens to every child. The key is to navigate around what is causing the anxiety and allow the child an outlet to feel, identify, describe and work through their anxious moments.
Although not a parent myself, I have spent many years working with children and teenagers, coaching them through life and no matter the age, anxiety is the common denominator. Years ago it used to be only 15-17 year old's feeling the stresses of school and the pressure to perform well in exams who would come to me with anxiety - not any more. For the last 12 months I've had a run of 6-8 year old's all struggling with anxiety - rearing it's head as tummy problems, shallow breathing, fear of going to school and so on...For many of the parents who reach out to me, there have usually been other professionals who have already tried to assist (think Psychologists, School Chaplains, Councillors..)
If you find yourself stuck in a rut - unsure of how to help your child in in a moment of anxiousness, try these phrases. They will create a sense of calm all while providing an outlet for your child to work through their feelings. Although ideal for children under the age of 10, these techniques can be adapted no matter the child's age.
"Can you draw it?"
This is a great option for children who struggle to use their words.
Drawing or painting what the anxiety feels like allows children to acknowledge their feelings and gets the anxiety off their chest.
"If how you feel was a monster, what would it look like?"
By characterizing the anxiety means you are turning it into a real and concrete character. Give the character a name and once children have a worry character, they will find a way to talk to their worry.
"Lets put your worry on the shelf while we (insert activity here.....read this book, kick the football, dance to your favourite song, blow some bubbles). Then we can pick it back up again"
This is a great technique to bring the child back to the present moment, especially for children who tend to hold on to their anxiety for long periods of time. Setting it aside to do something they enjoy can help put their worries into perspective and helps them understand they do not have to carry their anxiety all the time.
" Let's learn more about it"
Allow your child to explore their feelings, without hiding from the cause. Ask as many questions as they need - trying to keep them open-ended so they can elaborate on their responses. In order to heal you need to feel and knowledge is power!
"Close your eyes and picture this...."
Creative visualisation can work wonders for some children in easing stress and anxiety. Guide your child through their imagination, creating a safe, warm and comfortable place.
This technique can assist with the physical symptoms of anxiety as well as the emotional/mental triggers.
"Let's move around"
Exercise has been proven to relieve stress and anxiety for up to a number of hours as it releases positive endorphins' which lift our mood. It will burn excess energy, loosen tense muscles and get your child breathing deeply. Choose an activity that will best suit your child...go for a walk, jump rope, run around the block, stretch or do yoga.
"What do you need from me right now?"
Ask the question. It could be a hug, their own space or a solution to their situation. If you don't ask, you are only assuming that you know what they need from you.
"I understand this is difficult"
Acknowledging that the situation is difficult validates your respect for the child and that you are understanding of their feelings.
"You are so brave"
Positively reinforcing your child's ability to handle the situation instantly empowers them and creates the feelings that they can succeed.
"I'm going to take a deep breath"
Be a role model during moments of anxiousness. Teach your child breathing strategies to bring their focus and awareness back to their breath which will calm the mind and ease physical symptoms of anxiety.
"What is the first piece that we need to worry about?"
This is a great technique for compartmentalizing the issue. This breaks it down to manageable chunks and we can then uncover which part is causing the anxiety, rather then associating the anxiety with the entire experience.
No-one wants to see a child unhappy, however it's important to remember that to build resilience and help kids overcome anxiety, we shouldn't remove the stressors that trigger it - rather we should help them learn to acknowledge their anxiety and work through ways to function as best as they can. Over time, the anxiety will decrease or fall away.
Just remember, avoiding the things that cause anxiety may make the child feel better in the short term, but what are the long term ramifications of not allowing the child to 'feel'?
Developing coping mechanisms is a vital aspect to life which will benefit the child for in the long run.
You are the best role model!
There are a multitude of ways that you can assist your child in managing anxiety by showing them first hand how you cope yourself!
Kids are intuitive and perceptive and they take in their surroundings. If they see you stressed, worried and anxious, chances are they will absorb and replicate that same behaviour. On the plus side, if they see you communicating calmly, breathing, meditating and exercising, they too may replicate those behaviours which will set them up for success not only in childhood but in their adult years to come.
Love & Light
xx Sandra Stoitis xx