How to Help Kids with Anxiety
Seeing children struggle through anxiety is heartbreaking. We watch them become fearful, teary-eyed, and upset, wishing we knew how to help kids with anxiety. When a child is anxious, they explore their world less and can become insecure. We might ask ourselves, “What can I give my child for anxiety?”
What is Anxiety?
For everyone, regardless of age, occasional anxiety is a normal part of everyday life. Anxiety is the feeling of panic, fear, or agitation that we feel in uncomfortable situations. The body’s natural “fight or flight” response kicks in during these times of stress, and our body reacts, the heart races, the skin sweats, and our breathing changes. In ideal situations, anxiety gives the body the energy to tackle stressful events. However, for anxiety in children and teens, it can become overwhelming when they don’t have the tools to cope.
Anxiety in Kids and Teens
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 7.1% of children between the ages of 3-17 years have anxiety. This number is up from 5.5% of children in the same age bracket in 2007. More children are suffering from anxiety than before.
Uncontrolled anxiety can lead to panic attacks. When anxiety turns into panic attacks, kids can start to worry about another panic attack and become more anxious, which creates a vicious cycle. Anxiety in kids, if left unmanaged, can affect a child well into adulthood. As adults, uncontrolled anxiety can affect their work performance, lifetime earning potential, and personal relationships. Anxiety can diminish self-confidence.
For kids and teens, anxiety can accompany other disorders like depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), making their condition worse. For example, about 73.8% of children with depression also have anxiety. Anxiety in children and teens can lead to poor grades, behavioral problems, and can impact social skills.
Signs of Anxiety in Kids and Teens
The signs of anxiety may be different from young children than it is for older children and adolescents. Young children, for instance, may not have adequate verbal skills to express their anxiety to their caregivers. A teen’s anxiety may be harder to notice, and they may be unsure or ashamed of their anxiety. Because children may not approach caregivers about their feelings, caregivers need to recognize the signs of anxiety. Spotting anxiety is the first step in how to treat children with anxiety.
Signs of Anxiety in Kids (General):
- Changes in sleep habits
- Increased clinginess toward caregivers
- Complain about stomach upset or other physical aches
- Become oppositional or have frequent outbursts
- Fidgety or restless behaviors
- Inattentiveness or scattered-thinking
Signs of Anxiety in Teens:
- Mood swings
- Declining academic performance
- Fewer interactions with friends
- Declining extracurricular activities
- Spending more time alone than usual
Protecting Kids and Teens from Anxiety
As a well-meaning parent, it can be tough to watch a child struggle with anxiety. We want their world to be filled with happiness and security, and anxiety seems to be the opposite of that. So, we find ourselves helping our children avoid the things that make them anxious. Shielding a child from sources of anxiety can feel like the right thing to do, but it’s not how to help a child with anxiety. It doesn’t result in calm kids. It results in fearful and insecure children.
Unfortunately, eliminating all sources of anxiety is not only impossible, but it doesn’t allow children to manage anxiety on their own. Teaching a child how to tolerate and function well, despite their anxiety, is the ideal route. The truth is life will throw children challenges and disappointments, especially when they’re adults. How they learn to react to the stresses of life can make all the difference.
Managing Anxiety the Natural Way
Finding natural remedies for anxiety in children can be a challenging process. Even natural supplements can have adverse effects on a child’s growing brain and body. Holistic therapies like mindfulness and meditation do work, but young children may not have the developmental abilities to perform them successfully.
Deciding the best way to find calm for kid-anxiety and adolescents can be frustrating. Do you keep asking yourself, “What can I give my child for anxiety?” Perhaps the question should be: What can you teach your child to control their anxiety? If you wonder how to treat teen anxiety or calm anxious kids, the key is through teaching them how to cope with stress and anxiety. There are a few steps parents can take to help make anxiety much more manageable -- without the use of medications.
Create Calm with Visualization
When it comes to anxiety, children have one edge that many adults do not -- a vivid imagination. Children can use their imagination as a “superpower” to combat stress and anxiety. The same imagination they use to transport themselves into space or their dollhouses can also create a relaxing space for themselves.
Using the power of imagination decreases anxiety in children. Relaxing a child through guided visualizations teaches children how to manage anxiety on their own. When a child is feeling anxious, ask them to close their eyes, and imagine themselves in any of the following areas:
- Their favorite, calming space. Ask them to describe how the environment looks, smells slowly, and how the objects in the space feel to the touch.
- Boxing their worries. Have them imagine a box or container to put their worries in. Have them assign different colors for their worries, and place those colors into the box (and closing the lid) when anxiety starts to take over.
- Turn anxiety into dough or clay. Ask them to visualize their worries as dough or clay. Imagine slowly rolling their worries into a ball in their hand and “smooshing” the form until they feel better.
Calm Kids through Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Teens and kids will find progressive muscle relaxation fun and calming at the same time. Through progressive relaxation, tension is consciously released from the muscles, which conditions the mind and muscles to calm down.
- Progressive muscle relaxation works best when lying down but can be accomplished while sitting or standing.
- Ask a child to tense their toes for 5 seconds, then relax them for 30 seconds. Repeat with each muscle group and work their way up to the fingertips and to the tops of their head.
- When performed before bedtime or naps, progressive muscle relaxation can calm kids down and lead to a more restful sleep.
Challenge Negative Thoughts
Anxiety comes from a negative thought process. Anxiety doesn’t mean that a child is a “negative” child or that something is “wrong.” It simply means that their mind may be focused on the negative aspects of a situation without the child’s awareness. Identifying and dealing with these thoughts can be the first step in how to treat kids with anxiety.
- Catch the negative thought. Help them make a short list of negative thoughts they might have. These thoughts are typically the cause of a child’s anxieties.
- Challenge negative thoughts by looking for evidence. Like a scientist or a detective, ask the child to gather evidence to support their negative thought. For instance, their negative thought may be “There are monsters in my room at night.” Validate their emotions, but not the monsters. Look for evidence with your child that the monsters exist. Take a flashlight and look for monsters. Be a detective and take notes. Evidence will point to the fact that monsters don’t exist.
- Change the thought. When it’s been determined that there is no evidence behind their negative thoughts, change the thought. Instead of focusing on monsters, focus on the positive. “My room is a happy and safe spot.”
Focus on the Positive
The strength to persevere and be resilient comes from having hope and managing stress. Children and teens are still developing their ability to adapt to the world around them. This age is an ideal time to teach them how to deal with anxiety by tackling the negative thoughts that occur with anxiety. There are activities you can show to help a child with anxiety focus on the positive in their life.
- Establish visual representations of their positive thoughts that they can routinely add to. A bulletin board where they can write affirmations, positive life events, or positive thoughts can boost their spirits and calm anxiety.
- Create a journal where they can write about positive life events, what they’ve been able to overcome, and any positive thoughts they may have. Developing positive thinking in teens and children fosters resilience to stress and anxiety in the long run. they can
Calming Kids though Breathing Regulation
When children, or people of any age, experience anxiety, our breathing changes. During stressful situations, we hyperventilate — which gives the body too much oxygen and not enough CO2. We can start to experience lightheadedness and a rapid heartbeat. For children and teens, this experience can easily feel frightening and overwhelming, leading to more anxiety.
By teaching a child to control their breathing, it offers them a sense of control over their anxiety. It also establishes a lifelong ability to manage their anxiety and conquer their fears. Through breathing regulation, you can find how to help a child with anxiety.
A simple and effective way to help a child learn breathing control is through CalmiGo. CalmiGo’s breathing regulation system is backed by research and proven to show results. Through its three stress-relief methods: Breathing Regulation, Relaxing Scents, Multi-Sensory Stimulation, CalmiGo provides quick relief from anxiety. Not only that, but CamiGo also adapts to your child’s individual breathing patterns, allowing them to become familiar with their natural breathing style.
Calm Kids Equal Confident Kids!
Parents can’t eliminate all the sources of anxiety for a child, but children can learn how to manage anxiety. Establishing healthy ways to control stress and develop resilience creates calm for kids.
Knowing they can manage their anxiety on their own helps a child feel more secure. Security leads to calm children, and calm children are much more self-confident! Able to tackle whatever the world throws at them, a secure child grows into a self-assured adult.