What Can You Do to Help Anxiety in Kids?

Stress in kids? Really?

Anxiety in Kids

After missing school and numerous trips to the doctor, my pediatrician kindly advised me that my kindergartner’s stomach aches were mostly likely due to anxiety — there was no physical cause.

My daughter, like many kids, experience stress physically. Headaches, stomach aches, vomiting and bed wetting are all common manifestations of stress.

OVERHEARD STORIES

I called in to the Love and Logic radio show. with Dr. Jim Fay who suggested I tell my husband about my own anxiety when my daughter was nearby, and how I handled my feelings, giving my daughter some solution ideas. I was supposed to  let her overhear.

Example:

“I was so worried about going to that meeting today, I felt kind of weird in my tummy. I decided to take five deep breathes and that really helped. And, the meeting went really well after all.”

This was hard to remember but I think it was good advice. Kids do like to overhear things we say — especially those times we don’t want them to be listening!

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

My husband noticed that if our daughter didn’t get enough physical activity, her behavior and anxiety got worse. We still make sure that we spent time outside running, swinging, jumping and playing. If it istoo cold, we’d rough house inside, jump off the couch, play basketball in our basement (I put up a hoop) or pretend to be dogs. It helps her so much.

BREATHING AND VISUALIZATION

Lori Lite created Stress Free Kids, a line of books, CDs and curriculum. She sent me Indigo Dreams, 60 minutes of stories and music.  Children follow the characters along as they learn belly breathing with A Boy and a Bear, make positive statements with anxiety in kidsThe Affirmation Web, visualize with A Boy and a Turtle and relax with The Goodnight Caterpillar.

I loved the CD but my daughter wouldn’t sit still to listen to more than a few minutes. She will move up until the last second before she has to sleep. Even when I read to her before bed, she’ll knit, reorganize her desk or fold clothes. But sitting, listening and breathing? Not so much.

However, I do think that for most kids, this is a great opportunity to practice calming and breathing. I suggest you take a look at this CD or the other products from Stress Free Kids – they meet a need in a world where more and more kids experience stress and anxiety.

HYPNOTHERAPY

Our pediatrician, Dr. Brian Kono, is trained in hypnotherapy. We tried a few sessions but the idea is that you learn how to calm yourself through visualization and imagery. I thought it was so helpful but my daughter, again, just wouldn’t do it. It does take a willingness on her part to be successful. Perhaps when she’s older and can understand how it could help.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

What’s worked for your child and your family?

anxiety in kids

ALSO READ:
Anxiety Connected to Sensory Processing Disorder
My Daughter’s Sensory Processing Disorder

  • http://babookworm.wordpress.com Mindi @ B.A. Bookworm

    I think this was your best post yet! Im glad you pointed out that its important to try out different relaxation approaches for different kids. Its possible that yoga would be a good relaxation exercise for your daughter, although as active as she is, she may like Tae-Bo even better!

  • http://www.lettersoupblog.blogspot.com Erin @ Letter Soup

    We’re using the workbook, What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety. My son doesn’t have any interest in actually doing the workbook pages, so we basically just read and use the activities as discussion starters. I also learned some great, simple strategies from the book, Helping Your Anxious Child, (Rapee, Wignall, Spence, Cobham, Lyneham) We’ve helped him identify activities that he can do to calm himself in various situations. For example, to calm down at home, he sits in a beanbag and listens to music or plays sports. At school, he gets overly anxious during unstructured times, like during lunch, so when he feels anxious, the plan is supposed to be to take deep breaths and observe what the other kids are doing for clues about what he should be doing, etc. Also knowing what to expect from an upcoming situation is a huge deal for my son, so we spend a lot of time talking though possible scenarios ahead of time. We often do this through storytelling, using “Brave Charlie” as the main character who succeeds by using his “calm down” strategies so he can think clearly and come up with great solutions to various problems.

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  • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

    I love the Brave Charlie idea! I’ve read the other two books and agree that they’re both very good. Thanks for writing about them, Erin.

  • http://www.magicalmeditations4kids.com Heather Bestel

    Mindi is so right about trying different approaches. As a therapist working with anxious children I have found that ‘one size’ definitely does not fit all. Some love to relax with creative visualisation or hypnosis, while others get much more out of art therapy.

    Erin’s coping strategies are excellent. Mental rehearsal is so useful and using a character to ‘try out’ the scenarios can help an anxious child immensely.

    I also offer the visualisation of a ‘safe place’ so that the child always has somewhere they can withdraw to and find resources. On one of my cds called ‘The Magic Garden’ there is a wise old willow tree that children love to sit under and tell their worries to. This is another useful vehicle to offload troubling feelings. xx

  • http://www.tiftalksbooks.com Tif

    What a great list of ideas! I need to bookmark this one because I can already tell my son is going to have issues with anxiety! The initial signs are already there!! And, can I just say that I LOVE Love and Logic!!! Love, love, LOVE it!!!! :)

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  • http://picklebums.com katepickle

    One of my girls is a big worrier…. she can worry herself awake most of the night over something that seems so crazy to me… though I do understand because I am pretty sure she inherited the worrying from me. Which is why I really like your first suggestion… for her to see/hear me talking about and dealing with my worries would be quite powerful for her I think.

    We also use something called ‘the catastrophe scale’… though my girls are a little older (8) they’ve been using it since they started school and it’s been fabulous. Basically it started out as a visual picture of a scale and they wrote or drew on it what something bad would be, something really bad, something really really bad and something catastrophic…. and when something is worrying them I get them to put it somewhere on the scale…. it helps to keep the little things from getting way out of perspective!

  • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

    thanks for this great idea, Kate!

  • http://through-my-is.blogspot.com Alicia

    I have a son with Selective Mutism- a severe anxiety disorder. He was placed on medication for a year and he is doing very well right now. In dealing with him, I have learned a few things about helping a child with anxiety:
    1. Do not force the child to do something that makes them extremely anxious- encourage and offer to assist, but don’t force.
    2. Tell the child ahead of time if something will be changing or if something that makes the child anxious is approaching.
    3. Freedom to be him/herself- if the child feels “normal”, it will alleviate some of the anxiety, too.

    Great article!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      I’m glad he’s doing better – sounds like you’ve learned these lessons first hand. Thank you!

  • MS

    Harp music is being used in military treatment facilities to reduce pain and anxiety. Studies have shown that is changes brain wave patterns (to whichever ones are helpful, I forget.) After my husband returned from deployment, we put a harp CD on when going to sleep. (Only harp, no accompaniment) I was astounded at the difference it made. Perhaps there is some credence to Biblical stories of David calming a raving King Saul with harp music! Sounds like such a simple solution, but it can’t hurt….PS. I’m not saying it’s an “only” solution, but to let people know that it is an amazing additive to your toolbox.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      that’s fascinating – thanks for sharing!

  • Shonda sandoval

    Like others I have anxiety and so do my kids. When my daughter was little she could be reasoned with and I would talk her through what was the worst thing that could happen and they all ended with and I’ll be here and still love u. When I was a kid I would sing my favorite song when scared. So I sang ‘Would u like to swing on a star’ to her ad a baby and it still calms her and makes her smile. My son has aspergers and has been more difficult for me to find quick fixes! I do try to recognize when something is building and if possible use distraction and silliness (again, this works for me). With both kids I told them how I loved them always. Each one has a special way. Now i ask them “how do i love u?” No matter how deep my son is into an episode he will say “higher than the moon and more than all the fishes in the sea”. So If I need to calm him down by phone we start with that anf it really helps. He also has fantastic teachets and school staff that have been with him for a long time and I can assure him that they love him and will protect him until he is back with mom. When noise is too much or it thunders he wears headphones to block some sound.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      what a great mom you are!!

  • Indigo

    Thank you so much for this! I’m going to try those Indigo Dream CDs (umm, well, anyway, I do feel a rather special connection with them! :) ).

  • molly

    We draw (when they were smaller) or write (now that they can) in a journal things that we are anxious about. It really helps. We also write some of the things that make us happy to balance it!

    • Nancy

      Ha! My daughter is anxious about writing! Tears last night on the first night with a little bit of writing homework.

  • Stacey

    Great article! My first grader also suffers from anxiety. We have also tried the visualization and breathing exercises, but like your daughter, she won’t sit still long enough. I found a book, which has become my go-to source, that is called Growing Up Brave by Donna B. Pincus. It is a great resource when it comes to understanding anxiety and some ways to deal with children who suffer from it. I have also found that behavior modification-type motivation works well for my daughter. She earns one or two stickers for things that stress her out. Once she earns 30 stickers I will reward her with a trip to the dollar store. It seems to be working for now. She just started school, so we will see how she does.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      Thanks so much for the ideas – going to get that book right now!!

  • Kara

    Sensory, Sensory, Sensory. It is not just for kids who have sensory processing issues it can help calm anxiety an stress in children as well. Why else do you think they have water and sand tables in every preschool classroom. When your child is having trouble with a schedule change, exhibiting emotional outbursts in the evenings once the school year starts, sleep is one way to make things better but up that sensory activity after school. Squeeze playdoh, have them do the cutting and spreading and mixing it may take to make snacks after school or when prepping for dinner. Spent time in a sandbox, or a bin of legos. Paint with shaving cream or even fill the bathtub with a new type of toy like a stack of plastic cups. Why else do you think they invented stress balls for adults. The same thing works for kids. Even headphones work wonders for my son when he needs to block out the worlds overstimulation which can be the sourse of some of the anxiety kids face at school. My son also exhibited a symptom of chewing on his clothes at school namely his collar. We give him a piece of gum when he walks in the door and that biting was a stress release for him. My child is a typical child who has higher stress and anxiety not any diagnosed issues but the sensory activities helped this in a big way.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      good to hear, Kara!

    • Elizabeth Pearson

      This is a great reminder. It’s hard for me to remember to do this with my daughter, because I have a sensory issue myself. I don’t like touching sand or play dough, or anything icky/dirty. And that’s my issue that I certainly don’t want rubbing off on my daughter.

  • Lisa

    My daughter is now 7, and we breathe. I make her do it with me – breath in…. breathe out… breathe in through the nose… and out through the mouth… At one point I started making sure that my daughter knew that she was fine, that she wasn’t sick and that “her feelings were making her stomach and head hurt.” Since she realized that, she will take a few deep breaths with me. When she gets really going, she will say, okay, I am breathing, I am getting over myself. We talk about feelings. We discuss the issue and brainstorm solutions together…. We talk about perspectives… how she sees it, and how else it could be interpreted. She has come a long way since I started working with her on it 2 years ago. Caring teachers help, too.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      that sounds like a great strategy, thanks, Lisa.

    • Glenda

      Lisa – your approach – by nature your own is the core practice of what I do for children in Mindfulness For Children. The breath is a stable influence in reminding children that self-soothing is always available. Further to this is the rhythmic patterns of daily routine that can be observed and then used as an anchor for children during overload. This is not just a method made up by MUM – its science: these habits effect Neuro-plasticity. I also support Kara’s sensory activities – given the child can access an exercise that is their first or second learner type – children will quickly respond to activities that are sensory based – used in conjunction with breath – this is Mindfulness For Children. Kind thoughts
      Glenda
      info@mindfulnessforchildren.co.nz

      • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

        thank you for sharing!

  • Ashley

    Sensory diet. If your child is experiencing sensory input problems, her body goes into fight or flight response. My son will vomit, cry that his stomach hurts, tell me his head hurts or his muscles hurt. He even gets chest pain once in a while. All of these have been checked out and he is ok physically. We have been doing OT work (once a week with a specialist – and OT) and at home several times a day. It is helping. Look into diet too. Healthy protein and fat in the morning will help as well – like high in fat greek yogurt (instead of the low fat options). Also, VERY little tv. My son gets worse and worse the more we watch tv or movies. I have had to wean him down from it.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      thanks, Ashley!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      great advice, thank you!

  • IamBullyproofMusic

    We have a little song called the “Monkey” song I use to help anxious kids. My own sons, one gifted and an anxious type, now both brag that “No one worries less than me!” and I’m positive it’s because, from a young age, I taught them both that we are what we THINK. So hello. What are you thinking? I’ve been told this song truly helps with anxious kids because they can visualize the monkeys chattering endlessly in their heads handing them worry thoughts– and then just tell their silly monkeys to shut up! haha empowering or what? Visualization and a funny song can work wonders! Kids are never too young to be handed a clue! Use ideas, in other words. And hugs. Plenty of hugs.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      sounds fantastic!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      do you have a link for the Monkey song?

  • Suzanne

    My daughter’s anxiety manifests through an occasional stutter. Her main source of anxiety seems to be school and all the rules there. When she is on break, her stutter almost disappears. We have worked with her by having conversations to problem solve some of the things that make her anxious and help her see they aren’t such a big deal. Thank you for the additional helpful tips. Can’t wait to try some.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      oh that sounds hard for her – how old is she?

  • Gwen Pescatore

    Tamar Chansky’s book “Freeing Your child From Anxiety” was a change maker for us/my son. Taught him & us how to deal with anxiety. A year after reading, he faces his biggest fears head on. Before, he wouldn’t have left the house.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      thanks for sharing about this book, Gwen. It sounds great!

  • Molly

    I was diagnosed with Generalized anxiety disorder when I was 7 and have been on medication ever since. I have seen therapists, read books, etc. I have found a number of techniques that have worked for me. For example, when I was younger I had a worry stone. A smooth stone bought at the store that had the word ‘breathe’ etched in it. I would rub and fidget with that whenever I got anxious. My mom had also told me a story about why it would help me. As a psych major I also know that finding the root of the anxiety/behavior can really help a ton. You may want to look into cognitive behavioral therapy. Here is some info http://effectivechildtherapy.com/content/cbt-anxiety. The most important thing you can do in my opinion is listen to her and support her unconditionally. Which it sounds like you are already doing.Best of luck!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      Molly, thank you for sharing your story and suggestions!

  • Linda Dunn

    My relationship with my granddaughter is completely different from the ones I had with my children. Thank God. I have a high level of anxiety that at the age of nearly 63 years I am still learning to recognize for what it is. That helps me when I’m with my granddaughter. Understanding myself better helps so much in appreciating her as she is. Thank you for Imagination Soup. The work you do is part of the healing our whole world really, really needs. God love you.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      thank you!! xx

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