7 Ways to Help Anxious Kids

by Amy on February 16, 2010

Have you read the book Wemberly Worried? Worry, worry, worry. Too much worry.

We have a worrier in our house – my seven-year-old daughter, Natalie. I can totally relate to her – I get that nervous stomach, too! I wouldn’t say her anxious tendencies are debilitating, but they are something we struggle with on a day to day basis. In our quest to help her learn calming techniques and conquer new situations and experiences, we have found a few simple ways to help her work through her anxieties. Here are some things that have worked for us:

Be accepting.

Being anxious or nervous is not bad or wrong. It’s just another feeling in the great land of emotions!  I tell Natalie that the physical feelings of being nervous (tummy butterflies, dry throat, sweating, feeling flushed) are her body’s ways of protecting her. We talk about her body “checking-in” with her brain – Are you sure this is safe? Most of the time, the answer, of course, is yes! But, I never want her to disregard or ignore those feelings. She should always pay attention to her “gut” feeling.

Be proactive.

If I know in advance about a schedule change, a substitute teacher, etc., I always try to give my girls a heads-up. They like to know if the party we’re going to is going to have a lot of people they don’t know. They like to be reminded that it is going to get very dark at the theater before the play starts. I cannot predict every possible thing that might cause some worry, but I can try to be aware and attentive. Now that my girls are older, I also encourage them to ask questions that will help make them feel more comfortable going into a situation.

Make a plan.

Knowing what to expect can be a helpful tool in soothing an anxious child. When Natalie goes to ballet, she likes to know where I will be while she is in class and where I will be standing to greet her when she comes out. On the way to ballet, we talk about what she might do in her class that day – the beginning stretches, the positions, the fun free time at the end. Talking through an activity in detail can be very reassuring, and it can also distract your child from thinking about the butterflies in her tummy!

Teach positive self-talk.

Natalie is probably sick of me asking her, “What are you telling yourself right now?” But, I think positive self-talk is such an important skill, especially for someone with anxiety. Back to ballet class….. I encourage Natalie to tell herself things like I know the teacher and the kids in my class. I always have a good time. I will see my mom in one hour. This will be fun! These are feelings she expresses to me after class, so I know they are something she identifies with and can use to redirect her thinking as she waits to go into class.

If you still engage in pretend play with your kids, you can model positive self-talk as you play. Your character can say things like, “I’m really nervous about going to my friend’s house today, but I know I will have fun!”

Allow extra time.

Yes, my kids take about 20 minutes (or more!) to “warm-up” at a busy birthday party. It’s okay.

Yes, we arrive at classes and appointments early, so we can have a chance to check things out ahead of time. It’s okay.

Yes, I stay at ballet class while all the other kids in the class are dropped-off.  It’s really okay.

Extra time to be ready, extra time to feel comfortable, extra time to process – so important and so powerful!

Help your child discover calming techniques.

Right now, I am a crucial part of the calming down scenario. It’s my words, my hugs, and my reassurance that help ease the worry. But, my goal is for my girls to discover the unique things that help them calm down and relax. Talk with your child about relaxation techniques and encourage him to try some out. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • deep breathing
  • stretching
  • listening to music or singing
  • humming
  • walking
  • hugging a stuffed animal
  • squeezing a stress ball
  • drawing, scribbling

Give praise for a job well done.

We went to the dentist recently and as we sat in the waiting room, Natalie was getting increasingly nervous about having her x-rays taken. We managed to make it through all four x-rays with some deep breaths (and silly jokes – laughing is a good stress-reliever!). After our appointment, I made sure to tell Natalie this: “Even though you were nervous, you were able to stay calm and persevere through getting your x-rays. You should be so proud of yourself.” And she was!

These are some ideas that have worked for our family. If you are concerned about your child’s anxiety, please talk with your pediatrician.

Resources:

Emotions + Preschoolers @ Let’s Explore

How to Identify Your Kids’ Stress Signs @ Michele Borba Blog

Parenting Tips for Anxious Kids @ WorryWiseKids

What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner

When My Worries Get Too Big! A Relaxation Book for Children Who Live with Anxiety by Kari Dunn Buron

Do you have a child that struggles with worry and anxiety? What are your go-to techniques for calming your child’s nerves?

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