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Most Effective Ways for Calming Children With Anxiety
Calming children with anxiety can feel overwhelming and sometimes defeating. The behaviors we see on the outside are not always representations of what they are feeling on the inside. Often what we see in children with anxiety are aggressive, defiant, and oppositional behaviors. Other times we see frequent physical complaints such as stomach aches and headaches, especially when children have to attend school, socialize in groups with other children, attend events, perform for people, or when separated from their parents.
1. Talk to your children about their anxiety
As adults, when someone asks us, “how do you feel?” we are usually able to identify what we are feeling. However, younger children have not yet developed the ability to connect their feelings with words. Therefore, their communication manifests itself in their behaviors. For parents of children with anxiety, it is important to open up a dialogue in a way that feels non-threatening to them.
Reading books is one of the best and easiest ways to open up discussions about anxiety for children. Not only do reading books help teach your child about feelings, but it also helps you understand and talk to your child.
Any children’s books about fears, worries, phobias, emotions, or stress are great but here are some recommendations to get you started:
Don’t Feed The Worrybug by Andi Green – a super cute book about a little worrier named Wince. The more he worries, the more his Worry Bug grows. This is an excellent book for helping children begin understanding their worries, and to teach them not to allow their fears to spoil their days. There is also a little stuffed animal that goes with it that makes this book even more educational. I have read this to kindergartners, and they love it.
Wilma Jean the Worry Machine by Julia Cook – an amusing book that teaches children how to feel in control of their fears. This book also provides helpful tips for parents on how to manage children with anxiety. I like this book because it has illustrations that can help children connect the dots with how their bodies feel and their feelings.
What to do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebner, Ph.D. – this is an interactive book designed to teach children how to manage anxiety. It has illustrations, is colorful, and educates, motivates, and empowers children to work towards change.
The Kissing Hand – A children’s classic that can help children manage their anxiety and fears during times of separation such as going to school.
Help Your Dragon Deal With Anxiety by Steve Herman – I love this book not only because it helps teach children and parents how to manage anxiety, but it is part of an entire series of books. This is great because the dragon character becomes familiar and one they can connect with.
My Moods My Choices Flipbook – this is a super cute flipchart of little monsters with facial expressions. I use this a lot with small children to help them communicate how they feel. It is a small book that you can set on a table and refer to when children need some help sharing how they feel. On one side of the flip chart, there are different choices to use for discussions. This is a book more about moods, but I include it because it has many different emotions and is a beneficial tool for helping children learn their feelings words and to make better choices when they experience negative emotions.
The Anxiety Workbook for Kids – I highly recommend this workbook. It focuses on children’s strengths vs their problems and facilitates their imaginations, and empowers them to face their anxiety instead of avoiding it. Inside this workbook, there are activities and games to help teach problem solving skills, as well as mindfulness exercises.
2. Create a Relaxation Station
When I was working with adults with addiction, we frequently discussed self-care. I often encouraged them to set aside a quiet place to relax and do things like read, do yoga, or listen to music. Children with anxiety are no different. It is helpful for them to have a calming, relaxing space to soothe them.
Pinterest has some amazing and inexpensive ideas for you to create a relaxations station your child. A relaxation station (or sensory space) not only provides a calming place for your child, but it will help parents as well. There are many inexpensive sensory toys and items that can help soothe your children when they are on sensory overload mode. Here are some suggestions:
3. Create an anxiety toolbox
Before I began doing in home therapy for children with behavioral problems, I did outpatient counseling for adults. Next to the chairs in my office I had a little basket full of sensory toys that never went untouched. Sensory toys are specifically designed to stimulate all 5 senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hear. They are most commonly used for children with autism however, they are very effective for calming children and adults with anxiety.
My granddaughter has anxiety and when she comes to my house, she always grabs my bucket of stuff, especially when she is spending the night. The following list of inexpensive sensory toys are my client’s and my granddaughter’s favorites. They are also my own personal favorites because I also have anxiety.
Most of these items are small enough to throw into a little soft lunchbox to travel with or to keep near your child’s relaxation station. By creating an anxiety toolbox, over time, your child will discover the things that work best for managing anxiety on his or her own. This behavior change becomes second nature and that is definitely the goal for you, mom.
Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty– this is actually one of my favorite and my clients’. It lasts a long time, can take a lot of wear and tear, is small enough to carry around in pockets, and it comes in tons of bright colors. Thinking putty is much better than slime because it doesn’t stain furniture, clothing, or carpet. There are two sizes and, personally, I like the small tins the best. The amount inside of them is perfect for little hands as well as adult hands.
Kinetic sand and sand slime. Kinetic sand and slime are my absolute favorites. I love the sand slime better because it has this flowy, soft, weird feel to it. I recommend this over play-doh because it doesn’t dry out and it is so wonderfully flowy. There are also accessories like sand tables and kinetic sand molds that will keep children with anxiety calm and content. Mom, this is great for you, too!
Bubbles and balloons – Calming children with deep breathing is probably one of the most widely used skills to manage them. An easy way to teach children to do deep breathing is with bubbles because, well, you have to breathe to blow them! I suggest the no-spill bubbles because they seem to last longer. Children can blow up balloons, also, to facilitate deep breathing.
Fidget Spinners – When fidget spinners became all the rage, they were advertised to help children with ADHD concentrate. Although there is some controversy about that because it is not scientifically proven, fidget spinners do keep nervous hands busy. The light-up spinners add sensory component and kids seem to really love them.
Marble Fidgets– These are helpful for stress relief. The texture of the mesh covers feels good in tiny hands and the movement of the marbles is soothing. They are small enough to fit in your child’s pockets and the mesh is a fairly durable soft plastic fabric that can withstand some rough handling.
Stress Relief Balls-Who doesn’t love a squishy stress balls? I recommend having some in your toolbox that have different levels of firmness because some are squishier than others. Stiffer ones are helpful for aggression, while softer ones help soothe children with anxiety when they are feeling sad, worried, nervous, or scared.
Stretchy strings – Calm children with anxiety with stretchy, bendy, and twisty stretchy strings. My grandbaby, for some reason, ties these on everything. They come in many different bright colors.
Snake puzzles – Problem solving helps children refocus during high stress times. I recommend these because they are an easy way to redirect children’s attention on to something else when they are feeling stressed. Fidget cubes and Rubik’s Cubes are also some favorites.
4. Calm children with anxiety by playing games
Most children love to play games. Parent-child interaction is important, and children with anxiety need to soothe. Playing games is a win-win. The wonderful thing about playing games is that you can play anxiety-focused ones and most children will never know the difference. As a parent, you can learn more about your child while providing positive support for them.
I have a few therapy games that I use that can help them open up about their feelings while encouraging problem-solving, one on one attention with mom or dad (or both), and can be self-confidence boosters. Calming children with anxiety is much easier when they are actively doing something else besides focusing on their anxiety.
The Ungame – while this is not an anxiety specific game, it is a discussion game. There are no winners or losers, and it is a great game for all ages. There are some very simple everyday questions, and some that are more difficult. I encourage this game for all families, even if there are no mental health issues to deal with. If you have difficult teenagers, especially teenage girls, there is a teenage version that would be perfect.
Mad Dragon – this game is very similar to Uno and teaches children how to manage their anger. Since anger and aggression is common with children with anxiety, this is a fun game to teach them anger management skills. Some of the cards have questions and no one can take their turn until the questions are answered. Instead of saying “Uno,” when there is one card left, players say “Mad Dragon.”
Totem – I purchased this game to use with the kiddos I work with back in February 2020. I have not had the opportunity to use it, but after reading the directions, it sounds like a very good confidence and self esteem building game. It is an unusual card game that builds “totems” by drawing cards and describing positive qualities about each other. For children who struggle with self confidence and self worth which contributes to anxiety, this can be a positive game for family members.
Kids Against Maturity – I say laughter is always the very best medicine. This game is hilarious. I believe this is fashioned after Cards Against Humanity, which is a VERY adult game. This is a hilarious family game that can crush any anxiety in the room.
5. Ignite your child’s imagination with superheros
Coloring, drawing, painting, charades, or anything else that ignites your child’s imagination can be calming for children with anxiety. One thing about children with anxiety is they often lack self-confidence. They worry about not being good enough, being laughed at, or what other people will think of them. Sometimes their worries go deeper.
I love having conversations of superheroes with kiddos and I often ask them, “if you could be any superhero, who would you be?” I also ask them what superpowers they would have. You can do the same, mama! But, ask your child to color or paint one. Not only will it spark his or her imagination, but it might also boost confidence to think of himself or herself as a superhero. If they don’t want to draw or paint, coloring in coloring in coloring books are another one of my go tos.
6. H.A.L.T. – calming children with anxiety can be emotionally draining
Believe it or not, if you have anxiety, your child is going to pick up on it. They are going to react if they sense your anxiety. So, it is important for you to take care of yourself. When I work with my clients with addiction, I often refer to the acronym H.A.L.T. It applies to everyone, not just people who have an addiction. Mommies and daddies
- Hungry – I have no room to talk about proper diet. I literally just scarfed down 3 pieces of stuffed sausage and mushroom pizza. However, by eating natural foods, organic foods, limiting processed foods, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, limiting caffeine, and drinking water, your body will feel healthy. You need your mental strength and sanity when dealing with life, let alone calming children with anxiety.
- Angry – watch your temper. Children with anxiety are frustrating and require a lot of patience. When you are angry and react to situations in an angry manner, you are going to have a monster on your hands. All of the tools I provided for your children, are honestly things you can use as well. Take a time out, mommy. If you are frequently feeling angry, it is time to take a break and reset your brain.
- Lonely – it is important to have a support network. Family, friends, social network groups, and someone who can give you lots of hugs can help your world feel less lonely. Taking care of challenging children can feel lonely sometimes because they can be demanding.
- Tired- get plenty of rest. There is no way you can effectively manage calming your children with anxiety if you are irritable because you haven’t had enough sleep. And if you are feeling emotionally drained and tired, reenergize yourself. In fact, I have an article for you to read that will make you laugh, but mostly because it is so true of most selfless moms like you. Check our my article Self Confidence Begins With a New Pair of Panties. It may shed some light on other reasons why you are feeling so tired.
HALT, It means stop. Take a break for a moment and readjust some things. Take a deep breath, step back and relax for a moment.
7. Turnaround – at home treatment program for children with anxiety
Turnaround, developed by parent and psychologist Dr. Dave Russ, is a 10 week at-home treatment program for children with anxiety. It is an interactive audio program that teaches your child what anxiety is, how anxiety works, and how to overcome it.
Children and parents work together using the Turnaround program once a day for 10 weeks. The program uses fun characters, a printable journal, mindfulness exercises and more. You can also take a short quiz to determine whether or not your child may have anxiety.
Managing children with anxiety can be challenging however, it does not have to be exhausting. The key is understanding that some of your child’s behaviors are related to their fears, and their inability to express themselves. By learning and understanding them, having open dialogues, providing stress free zones, having access to some simple toys, being patient, and boosting their self esteem, you can calm them and help their lives become more manageable.
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