Having an anxious child can be a heartbreaking experience for you and your kid. You’d do anything to calm her emotions, but where can you start? We aren’t born understanding how to comfort ourselves, but we do have to learn. When you’re parenting an anxious child, you have two jobs: Calm her and also help her to learn how to calm herself.
Childhood anxiety is perfectly natural. The truth is, our world can be anxiety provoking for anyone. Children’s lack of understanding about the world around them, their short stature, and lack of control can make anxiety much worse.
According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, one in eight kids suffers from an anxiety disorder. How do you know if your child is feeling a bit of fear, versus suffering from a disorder?
An anxiety disorder diagnosis covers several kinds of anxiety, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might be diagnosed in children who have experienced a traumatic event, like an accident.
To distinguish, look for worry so great that it interferes with daily activities. A child afraid of a large dog might just be experiencing fear. A child who won’t leave the house because he might encounter a dog could have a disorder. You should also look for physical symptoms. Sweating, fainting, and a feeling of choking could indicate an anxiety attack.
The first thing you’ll want to do if you suspect that your child has an anxiety disorder is schedule a doctor’s appointment. The doctor can review your child’s medical history to see if there’s an underlying reason for symptoms. They might also refer your family to a mental or behavioral health professional.
The options for helping anxious children include professional therapy and prescription medicines. You can also help calm your child’s anxiety with these natural approaches.
What it is: Gentle, slow body movements, and breathing with attention and concentration.
Why it works: “When anxiety increases, changes occur in the body, including shallow breathing,” says Molly Harris, a board-certified occupational and yoga therapist who works with kids. “This can cause anxiety to increase, prolonging feelings of stress.”
“In yoga, kids learn a ‘belly breath,’ which expands the diaphragm and fills the lungs. This activates a restful state via the parasympathetic nervous system. Heart rate slows, blood pressure lowers, and children feel a greater sense of calm.”
Where to start: Practicing yoga together is a great introduction, and the younger your child is when you start, the better. Pick fun, easy poses like bridge pose or the aptly named child’s pose. Concentrate on holding poses and breathing deeply.
What it is: Art therapy involves allowing kids to make art for their own relaxation and sometimes for therapists to interpret.
Why it works: “Children who are unable or unwilling to communicate their feelings verbally can still express themselves through art,” says Meredith McCulloch, M.A., A.T.R.-B.C., P.C., of the Cleveland Clinic. “The sensory experience of making art can be soothing in and of itself and encourage children to remain in the moment.”
Where to start: Have art materials readily available and encourage your child to use them as often as they like. Focus on the process of creating, not the finished product. Qualified art therapists can be found by searching the Art Therapy Credentials Board online directory.
Deep Pressure Therapy
What it is: Applying gentle but firm pressure to the body of an anxious person with a pressure garment or other method.
Why it works: “When I was working with children with special needs like anxiety and autism, I realized that hugging causes rapid anxiety release,” says Lisa Fraser. Fraser went on to invent the Snug Vest, an inflatable garment that allows the user to give himself a much-needed hug.
How to start: There are several “squeezing” products designed to reduce anxiety. You can also try gently rolling your child in a blanket or rug, similarly to how a baby might be swaddled.