MINI HABITS TO SOOTHE YOUR CHILD’S ANXIETY
Amberlee L. Peterson
Every child experiences it, but most don’t know how to handle it.
He was 5 years old, and he still couldn’t use the toilet. This was a daily struggle for my cousin and her little boy as they tried everything they could think of to get him potty trained. It was months and months of searching for solutions. And although there ended up being multiple factors in why this was such a challenge for him, along the way my cousin discovered a surprising factor they hadn’t expected: her little boy had anxiety.
Every child will experience anxiety to some extent, and the effects of it can pop up in surprising ways. Watching a scary movie and going to school for the first time are enough to give everyone a dose of it. But about one in eight children experience anxiety disorders. If you suspect your child has an anxiety disorder, you’ll want to seek professional help. But for smaller times when you sense your child’s anxiety building, specialists recommend these mini habits to help you all calm down together.
Create a mantra
“Give the child a mantra to make them feel better. Something along the lines of ‘My parents love me, I love myself.’ Another example is ‘There’s nothing to be scared of. I am going to be okay,'” said Danielle Hannah, the inventor of Mantra Magnets, a biomedical device to help curb anxiety.
Have a mindfulness routine
Mindset coach Tiffany Toombs suggests battling anxiety by being present together. “Anxiety represents a situation where the child is living too far in the future and has disconnected from the present. Creating a daily mindfulness routine to do as a family can teach the child and ‘rewire’ their nervous system to stay in the present,” she said.
“Mindfulness routines can include a gratitude practice (listing three to five things daily that you’re grateful for), breathing techniques (ie. box breathing — breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out for four counts and hold for four counts), meditation or mindful yoga.”
Sit down and make time
We live busy lives. This means that sometimes as parents we are so busy rushing around so our children don’t feel they can release their emotions.
“One of the best things a parent can do for their child with anxiety is to create a regular time to sit down and allow the child to talk about their feelings,” Toombs told Famifi. “The parent should set an intention to simply listen and understand their child. This time isn’t about fixing the problem or telling the child how to feel, the only goal is to understand them.”
Identify the feeling and check in with their body
“Most of the time, children cannot put a name to what they are feeling, but you can help them identify this so that they do not feel as confused,” mental health therapist Emily Griffin recommends. “Parents can also reflect to their child what is making them anxious. For example, if a child closes off physically by crossing their arms when they are walking by a dog, you can say ‘It makes you nervous to walk by dogs because you are not sure if they are going to be nice or mean.’ This helps them start to understand the internal dialogue that they may be having in their head.”
Keep a calendar your child can see
Child and adolescent psychologist Allison Kawa said this simple act of showing your child what’s coming up can help. “Lack of information creates anxiety. Children feel safe and contained when they know what is coming up or what is going to happen. Keep a calendar up where they can see it to know what the day will look like. Color code things if your child is too young to read (e.g., blue days are for baseball, pink days are for play dates, etc.)”
Try finger breathing
Therapist Julia Colangelo suggests trying the simple exercise of finger breathing. This means, “moving your finger up and down on the inhale and exhale can be a great exercise to manage anxiety while breathing in the moment.”
Make a routine of this at bedtime or when your child wakes up, and it can become a natural part of your schedule.