As parents our job is to help kids deal with difficult emotions.
Anxiety is one of these difficult Emotions. This post has great ideas that I have found around the blogosphere for helping your child deal with this uncomfortable emotional state.
Anxiety can be a very normal thing, and most of us (including kids) will experience worries from time to time. As a parent you should worry about your child if they are exhibiting the Red Flags of Worry.
Red Flags for Anxiety – what is normal & what is not?
Demonstrating excessive distress out of proportion to the situation: crying, physical symptoms, sadness, anger, frustration, hopelessness, embarrassment
Easily distressed, or agitated when in a stressful situation
Repetitive reassurance questions, “what if” concerns, inconsolable, won’t respond to logical arguments
Headaches, stomachaches, regularly too sick to go to school
Anticipatory anxiety, worrying hours, days, weeks ahead
Disruptions of sleep with difficulty falling asleep, frequent nightmares, difficulty sleeping alone
Perfectionism, self-critical, very high standards that make nothing good enough
Overly-responsible, people pleasing, excessive concern that others are upset with him or her, unnecessary apologizing
Demonstrating excessive avoidance, refuses to participate in expected activities, refusal to attend school
Disruption of child or family functioning, difficulty with going to school, friend’s houses, religious activities, family gatherings, errands, vacations
Excessive time spent consoling child about distress with ordinary situations, excessive time coaxing child to do normal activities- homework, hygiene, meals
Help your child be a Worry Warrior. This means that he will face his fears head on. As you have likely heard, bravery is not the absence of fear. It is feeling the fear and doing it anyways. When kids can face their worries and process them with a caring adult, they are one step closer to emotional freedom!
We all want Emotional Wellness for our families. Difficult emotions like anger, anxiety, and sadness are really expressions of other deeper feelings.
The Emotions Wheel:
You can see that feeling Scared can often be a result of feeling a variety of different ways. The emotions we often see are the ones in the center and the underlying feelings are on the outside of the wheel.
For kids, I would bet that most fear and anxiety comes out of feeling insecure, confused, helpless, embarrassed and/or overwhelmed.
The best way to tackle anxiety is in 4 ways: help kids identify what they’re feeling (Use the Wheel of Emotions), support the expression and release of those feelings, give your child appropriate ways to deal with their uncomfortable feelings, and think about ways to prevent anxiety.
Click Here for my post with a collection of visual Feelings or Emotions Charts (all free printable)
Worry Warriors – Parents Can Help Kids Cope with Anxiety
1. All Tied Up with Worry
This is a great activity for helping someone visualize their worries, and it gives great insight into what they may be worrying about the most. You can do this for yourself or your children. It’s great for all ages!!
What you will need: yarn, small squares of paper, and something to write with.
1. Start by talking about something the person worries about and pull out a string of yarn that represents how big the worry feels. Write the worry down on a piece of paper. Be sure to attach the worry to the string of yarn so you can keep track of which worry goes with which string of yarn.
2. Once all the worries have been written down and the yarn has been pulled, you can evaluate what you see. Some people have A LOT of worries. Others have only a few worries, but they may be really big. This puts into perspective which worries are bigger than others. It’s a wonderful tool for gathering and processing information!
For those who have a lot of worries, ball up the yarn and talk about how all these worries in their head feel:
- Face Shapes (get them at a craft store or make them) – ask your child to pick a Face that will represent them.
- Use address labels (or cut paper squares)
- Have your child stick each worry in the “brain” of their face shape.
- Talk about how worries can fill up their head and make it hard to think of other things, such as schoolwork.
- Then take each worry out of their “brain” and talk about various possible solutions and ways to deal with the worries. They could cut the worry down and make it shorter to indicate they felt a little better about it.
- Emphasize the importance of talking about our problems and applying any stress reduction techniques.
Get Your whole family involved in discussing their worries and the sizes of their worries with one another. This dialog will improve the family’s communication and give your child permission to share their feelings with you!
2. Worry Dolls
Some kids worry about everything … especially at bedtime. One of the ways you can help your child cope is by getting your child a set of “worry dolls.” They are a set of tiny dolls in a small wooden box. Explain to your child that at bedtime they can tell each doll one worry and the dolls will work on the problem while your child sleeps. That way your child can let go of their worry and get some rest.
I have always loved this idea of having little helpers. This technique of letting go of worries one by one allows your brain and body to take a break from anxiety. So Here are Steps to make your own worry dolls! It’s super simple … take a pipe cleaner and cut it in half.Take one of the halves, fold it in half, and twist it leaving a loop at the top for the head. The twist creates the midsection of the body. The remainder of the pipe cleaner makes the legs. Bend up the ends to create the feet.
Take the leftover half of the pipe cleaner and twist around the body just below the head to create the arms. If the length of the arms or legs are off, either twist it around another time or cut to the desired length.
One pipe cleaner = one worry doll!
3. Worry Stones
The concept is that if you rub the worry stone in your hand then it will help your worries go away. It also gives the child something to physically have in their hand which helps with fidgeting as well!
Use Fimo Soft and Soft Effect Clay – super easy to blend and very soft! You can purchase the clay at Michael’s Craft Store for $3.
step-by-step photo directions to make your own worry stones:
Step 1: Pull off a small amount of 2-3 colors of clay.
Step 2: Push the clay together to form a ball.
Step 3: Roll and twist the clay in your hand to make a ‘snake’.
Step 4: Either take your ‘snake’ and smoosh it together or coil it.
Step 5: Roll it into a ball.
Step 6: Press your thumb into the ball until you have an indentation that you can rub your thumb in.
Bake them at 230 degrees for 30 minutes. Tip: Bake them in foil pans so there is absolutely no clean up!
4. Worry Shields
The commonly known activity is a family shield. Alternatively have Children make their own personal Shields – Ask them to write their name on the shield in big letters. Then have them decorate their shield with the things that they really like to do – things that would tell who they are. Click here for my post on Coat of Armor which includes FREE printable templates for both shield and coat of armor as well as cut-out decorations.
- Step One: Cut out a shield from a tag board or poster board. Write name large on the shield.
- Step Two: Decorate the shield with markers. Have the shield tell about you.
- Step Three: Add a grip with leftover tag board. Either horizontal or Vertical.
5. Pocket Hearts
A jar of hearts great idea for excited yet nervous preschoolers. Each heart will be filled with love from a parent and slipped into a pocket. And in that pocket each little heart will be a gentle reminder of calm during the first day of a new school year.
This would also work great for the First Day of School! Or Anytime your kids experience separation anxiety, just fill the heart with love and pop it into a pocket. There are also great on Valentine’s day – spread these hearts around the house – on pillows, in lunch bags, hidden in shoes and next to favorite toys. A sprinkling of love throughout the day!
To make a heart for your own excited yet nervous preschooler… cut out the desired shape, stuff with fiberfill and love, and sew together.
Materials: Felt, Embroidery floss, Fiberfill (stuffing), Needle, Scissors
Cut out a heart shape (if you plan on making a lot draw a simple pattern out of paper and pin it to the felt). Using 1 strand of embroidery floss sew the heart with blanket stitch or running stitch.
Remember to leave an opening big enough to stuff. Stuff heart – be careful not to overfill. Sew up the opening. Repeat and place in all your kids’ favorite places for little eyes to find.
Click Here For Blanket Stitch Instructions.
6. Worry Card Game Activity (free download)
“Worry cards” – Free download card game activity to help kids with ASD deal with anxiety
The characters in the cards:
Introducing the Worry Cards:
Tips on using the Worry Cards:
7. Creative Ways to Teach Deep Breathing to Kids
The majority of children struggle with some level of anger, anxiety, or stress. This includes very young kiddos as well! Children are often brought to therapy for anger management, anxiety, and poor attention (ADHD). Deep breathing has worked with each one of these diagnoses. The key is making the skills fun to learn and easy to remember outside of the therapy office. Children will be more motivated to learn, practice, and implement deep breathing if it is fun.
Reasons to Practice Deep Breathing:
In order to effectively teach deep breathing, we must first believe in its use and effectiveness. Below are some reasons why deep breathing is an important technique to teach to children:
- Proper deep breathing tricks the body into thinking it is in a calm state (as opposed to the fight or flight state). When we are in a state of stress, our bodies are in a “fight or flight” response. Our bodies in this state react with an increase in heart rate and breathing becomes rapid and shallow, as opposed to the calm state of deep, “within our gut” breathing and slower heart rate.
- Deep breathing gives the body energy. The act of breathing deeply helps to deliver nutrient rich oxygen throughout the body.
- The delivery of oxygen also helps to eliminate waste in the body and helps maintain healthy cells.
- Deep breathing is a technique that can be used anywhere. It is a useful technique to have ready when the time comes. Practice in a calm state so when one feels stressed, the technique can be easily implemented.
- It is free! There is no cost to practice deep breathing.
3 Fun Ways To Practice Deep Breathing:
(free PDF handout with these techniques explained: articleProfDeepBreathing)
Such a simple, yet fun toy, who doesn’t love to watch the pinwheel colors mix together as it spins?
- Have the child take a deep breath (remind them slow and deep).
- Instruct them to hold their breath for 2 seconds (count out loud).
- Then, release the breath by blowing the pin wheel.
- Repeat 3 more times.
Candle and Flower
- Gather together a candle and a flower.
- Starting with the flower, have the child take a deep breath (remind them slow and deep) through their nose as if they are smelling the flower.
- When they are breathing in the flower, have them pretend they are breathing in good, calm feelings.
- Instruct them to hold the breath for 2seconds.
- Then, release the breath by slowly blowing out the candle, pretending that they are breathing out the negative feelings.
- Repeat 3 more times.
Blowing a Feather
- Purchase several large feathers from a craft store in various colors.
- Ask the child to choose the feather that is most calming to them, or that brings them positive feelings.
- Have the child hold the feather in one hand.
- Slowly, take a deep breath and hold for 3 seconds.
- While slowly breathing out, blow the feather up one side and down the other.
Repeat 3 more times.
- Practice these activities while the child is calm. This will make it easier for the child to use deep breathing in times of need.
- Dim the lights to create a more soothing environment.
- Set a timer for the child to practice a calm state and increase that time as they improve their skills.
- Include the primary caregivers in the session and teach the deep breathing technique to them so they can coach the child to practice the deep breathing strategy at home.
- Once a day is recommended, at bedtime. There are plenty of deep breathing videos online. If your client is a visual learner, this may be a useful aid. There are also deep breathing Apps such as Breathe 2 relax.
Use a Hoberman’s sphere ~ “Breathing Ball”:
- They come in various sizes & Glow in the Dark Option. Click Here to Purchase Glow in The Dark on Amazon for $31 OR the Original Rainbow version for $33 Click Here.
- Use this to illustrate taking a deep breath
- Children use the sphere to breathe: breathing in slowly expanding their whole lungs while expanding the sphere, then exhaling slowly with the sphere as they compress it again.
- BONUS: Use the sphere to show children how when they are upset, their entire lungs do not expand and they breathe more rapidly, moving the sphere open and closed quickly without expanding it all the way. Teach them how this sends a signal to their brains to continue to be upset. Also teach them how breathing slowly and deeply and exhaling even more slowly can send a special message to their brains that they are safe and can calm down.
8. Calm Down Time 5 Playful Tools:
9. Use Pretend Play To Conquer Fears:
10. Make Sensory Balloons, Stress Balls:
To make these sensory balloons you will need:
- Balloons (different colors work best)
- Pasta shapes
- Granulated Sugar
- Anything else you want to put inside; some ideas: flour, water or gel, lentils, beans, salt, sand.
How to Get Play Dough inside a Balloon: Roll the play dough into a sausage shape. (You need dough rougly the size of a cupcake, too much and it makes it very difficult to tie the balloon). Stand the play dough sausage so it stands upright, then stretch the balloon open as wide as it will go with both hands and lower it onto the dough, then use your thumbs to push the dough into the balloon.Only fill the round part of the balloon. Pinch and squeeze out and dough that is in the neck part as it will make tying difficult. Also check for air pockets before tying and work these towards the opening. Tips: non-cook playdough produced a better dough as it was a bit more stiffer and consequently kept the squeezed shape for slighly longer than cooked dough. Adding extra salt seemed to make the dough even stiffer. Click Here for Simple 4 minute No Cook Play Dough Recipe.
11. 5-4-3-2-1 Relaxation Technique:
New things and change = increased anxiety for many of us.
This technique is very helpful when you have racing or repeating thoughts that contribute to raising one’s anxiety. Use it yourself … or help your child go through the technique … better yet, do it TOGETHER!
Start out by rating your current anxiety/worry/stress level on a scale from 1 to 10 … with 1 being little to none and 10 being the most you can ever imagine. (rating it now will be helpful in determining whether the technique worked).
Then, simply list in your head, or out loud (have your child say it aloud) …
FIVE things that you SEE.
then, FIVE things you HEAR. (sometimes this takes awhile, but take your time)
then, FIVE things you FEEL (not emotional feelings, but physical … like I feel my foot in my shoe, etc)
Now, list FOUR things you SEE, FOUR things you HEAR, FOUR things you FEEL
And then list THREE things you SEE, THREE things you HEAR, THREE things you FEEL
And TWO things you SEE, TWO things you HEAR, TWO things you FEEL
ONE thing you SEE, ONE thing you HEAR, ONE thing you FEEL
Take a few deep breaths … and rate your anxiety/worry/fear now. Did it help? If not try it again at different times. Sometimes you just need to practice it a bit … and sometimes it’s just not the technique for you. BUT … it’s worth a try!
12. Bedtime Sensory Tub, Lavender Dyed Rice:
It’s touchy-feely and smells wonderful. Here’s how to dye rice and make a bedtime sensory tub – 1. Start by placing your uncooked rice in a plastic bag.
2. Then mix up your color. Blend blue and pink food colouring to make a lovely lavender shade.
3. Pour the food coloring into the bag of rice and stir, stir, stir to distribute the color.
4. Lay out the rice to dry over night and your rice is ready. Easy peasy!
To add an extra sensory element to your bedtime tub add the flower heads from some lavender stalks. The rice has such a pleasant feel, as it’s soft and pours through your hands. With the added lavender it smells so relaxing too.
13. Textured Aromatherapy Play Dough:
Click Here for Simple 4 minute No Cook Play Dough Recipe. Lavender oil and cedar wood oil both have calming, relaxing properties and that lemon oil works to revive and refresh the mind. After making the Play Dough split it into 3 parts. Add just a few drops of each essential oil, making sure to keep them separate so that the scents didn’t mix. Add a variety of dry, non-scented, tactile ingredients to add another sensory dimension to the play. After playing, store these in 3 separate air-tight containers.
Questions to ask as they play: how does it feel? can you describe what it’s like? what does it smell like? how does the smell make you feel? which is your favourite and why?
Calming and Stress Relieving Lavender Play Dough
- 1 cup of flour
- 1/2 cup of salt
- 2 tbs of cream of tartar
- 1 tbs of oil
- Food colouring (we used Purple)
- 1 cup of boiling water
- 1/2 teaspoon of Lavender Oil
Mix all ingredients except the boiling water together into a large mixing bowl. Combine the purple food colouring and the Lavender Oil into the boiling water *this is a job for adults* – please be very careful handling boiling water around children. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the water, mix well and then turn onto some baking paper to cool.
14. Breath Through The Tears:
Whether it’s the result of a child being frightened, a tantrum, a “boo-boo,” or hurt feelings, I let children know that it’s okay to cry. Children do not always hear us validating their feelings when they are scared, they do not always want to make a choice, and sometimes they can’t hear themselves over their own screaming. They are just not ready yet. It is scary to a child when they have BIG emotions they are unsure how to resolve. Sometimes, a child simply needs help re-focusing. A secret focus weapon is breathing. We can categorize breathing techniques into two areas; real, and imaginary.
Simply sitting with a child and mimicking these techniques, without saying a word to them, works as well. Sometimes kids don’t want to hear what you have to say and that is okay.
15. Have Your Kids Make Their Own Calming Beach Bottles:
The point is to have the children create their own bottle, so the proper tools are essential to avoid frustration amongst the smalls. You’ll need little ocean accessories to put in your bottles. here is an example of what kinds of things you could use…The only thing I would have you remember, is to make sure your accessories sink, as that is the point of these bottles; you sit and watch as the items in the bottle settle to the bottom.
Last step is to add water and then Fasten the lid tightly, add a bit of glue to the lid if you want to avoid accidents, and then let the children shake the bottles and watch them settle! This is an excellent tool to use when your little one just needs a break from the business of learning the world around him. Let him take his bottle to a comfy chair and escape to his own little beach, and just breathe.
16. The Mommy Meltdown Basket:
A simple basket that contains items for helping you and your child reconnect during stressful times. Bringing a few calming items together can help mama take care of herself and connect with her children, even when the situation is difficult.
17. Creating a Quiet Space For Children:
Having a designated quiet room allows a child to choose to take time out to be still and quiet. Why is this important?
- It gives the child a chance to refresh their mind and body, which is especially important if they no longer nap.
- It may help your child focus and concentrate.
- Your child may develop an understanding of their own need to stop and relax for a while.
- It may help your child build skills in managing stress and other big feelings
- It may help prevent over stimulation (which can lead to meltdowns and tantrums) from a busy household with other children, a new baby, or other noisy activities.
- It gives your child a special space just for them, which may help with self esteem and building inner confidence.
- It provides an opportunity for your child to think and reflect upon his or her day, developing self awareness and promoting positive behaviour.
The room should:
- be safe!!
- be calming
- not be too stimulating
- appeal to your child’s likes and interests
- be away or closed off from noise and bustle
- Keep it minimal; too much stuff will clutter the space; which is not conducive to a relaxing environment.
- Use calming music or quiet audiobooks
- Use low lights- light toys… You could also use a mood light or lava lamp to encourage relaxation.
- Include a few sensory toys; a basket of light toys (glow stick, flashing balls, star projector), a small basket of fiddly toys (busy hands quiet the mind), some homemade stress balls, a glitter bottle (shake and watch the glitter settle), and a small tray of mini books.
- Make it cozy; set out some pillows, a bean bag and/or blankets to encourage your child to sit or lie down comfortably. A favorite teddy or other comforter may be useful too.
- Include anything else that you know your child would respond well to, for example a poster on the wall with lots of different faces on (happy, sad, loving, angry, etc)
Have your child help you make it and explain to them what their special calming jar is. This is a good opportunity for you to chat about feelings and good ways to express them.
Small jar- make sure it’s one that will hold liquid tightly
2 tubes of glitter glue
Half a tube of glitter
A few drops of food color
As parents we love new ways to get our wild children under control. We do time outs and talk it outs, but they don’t always work. Nothing always works, right? That’s why you gotta get creative. And this calm down jar is another tool to add to the arsenal of peaceful parenting.
Abstract thinking is a concept often compared to concrete thinking, in which thinking is limited to what’s in front of the face, and the here and now. In contrast, the abstract thinker can conceptualize or generalize, understanding that each concept can have multiple meanings.
- Abstract thinking can help people solve problems in creative ways.
- Brain injury to the frontal lobe may affect a person’s ability to think abstractly.
- Mentally handicapped people may have difficulty with abstract thinking.
- Children may have trouble with abstract concepts such as length of time.
- Abstract art may mean different things to different people.
- Most younger children can’t think in abstract terms.
If you are a parent, teacher, or in some other nurturing capacity and concerned about a young child dealing with a life issue that is causing worry. Theoretically it works best for kids between the ages of around 7-11 years, coinciding with the concrete operational stage of development – Worry Eggs work great to temporarily take the pressure off while also helping to create a context for later conversations.
Just purchase plastic eggs that you can pull apart, like the ones you get at Easter. Use sizes that fit within an egg carton so that each client can have a carton to put multiple worries into. Then instruct your child to write down or draw on a strip of paper the specific issue that is causing anxiety. Take it, put it in the worry egg, and explain that you are going to look after it for a while. You will take temporary ownership over the problem, promising they can have it back later.
Kids at the concrete operational stage think logically about concrete events and objects that are in front of them, but have a hard time thinking in abstract ways when they cannot relate their thoughts to the concrete situation. And therein lies the power of this strategy. A child visibly sees the free floating worry get written down on a piece of paper and then sees this piece of paper transferred to a caretaker who will look after it. The abstract is turned into the concrete. You will also make a powerful emotional connection because you have offered to shoulder the burden.
People of all ages see their issues differently when they can pin them down and say them out loud. Often the most painful parts of life have never been vocalized. When they finally are, some of their power immediately dissipates. For a child who lacks the efficacy and power that an adult has, this experience is very important.
Obviously we don’t want to ignore issues or forget about them. Why I find this strategy useful is that the power is placed in the hands of a child to decide what is causing the most stress and dysfunction rather than in the hands of an authority figure. We come back again and again to the eggs and monitor if ownership can be taken back or if they can just be thrown away. It gives us a valuable window into the inner workings of a child’s mind.