“My daughter is still dealing with separation anxiety even though she’s over 5 years old. She always has to know where I am.” “Bedtime is stressful every evening.” “My son has been angry for the past 6 months, yet will not tell me why.” Do these sound familiar? Children can experience many types of anxiety, though they do not necessarily know how to deal with them instinctively.
Our children were born into a culture of fear: we are afraid for our safety, that we will not fit in, that we will lag behind, and that we will not be accepted or we are afraid we are not good enough. According to a survey, the prevalence of anxiety in adolescence has now reached 32 percent. Our children are under pressure from a very young age though, fortunately, there are a number of highly effective strategies and games that can reduce the anxiety of children.
Video games and television programmes can cause anxiety in children, particularly if they encounter aggressive content that their brains process in the same way as if it had actually happened to them. Stress hormones activate, the amygdala is overactive and feelings of anxiety appear. It is crucial to set them boundaries in media consumption.
2. The power of thought
Although positive thinking has today become a cliché, it can really be a resource that helps to alleviate anxiety. As parents, we are capable of devoting attention to the expressions used by our child and warning them of negative thought patterns that can contribute to their anxiety. Typical negative thoughts include exaggeration, extremity (‘always’, ‘never’) and speculative statements (‘what if…’). If we discover such typical features, we can help them question their thoughts and find more sensible, self-reinforcing statements.
3. ‘Breathing buddy’
Breathing always helps ease anxiety. Psychologist Daniel Goleman, the person who coined the notion of emotional intelligence, recommends the breathing buddy method if your child cannot pay attention to their breathing. Place their favourite plush toy on their chest and ask them to observe how their ‘breathing buddy’ moves up and down. The exercise has a soothing effect and facilitates the development of emotional regulation skills and healthy breathing.
4. Be a safe haven
Many children are exposed to particularly harsh feelings and experiences. We should always be available to them and encourage them to discuss their thoughts and feelings. Let them express those without any judgement on our part. Repeat the things they share with you and show empathy.
5. The power of free play
Through play, children learn many skills and become capable of connecting with what is inside them. They learn basic problem-solving skills and safely encounter feelings such as fear, sadness or anger. Provide them with enough time for free play so they may develop the skills they will need throughout life in order to manage stress and anxiety.
6. Spend as much time as possible outdoors
There is a great body of evidence showing that time spent outdoors can help reduce stress and anxiety. When we have great weather, involve as many family members as possible in activity in nature. One can quickly experience the strong ‘grounding’ effect of nature.
How do you handle stress? Thank you for sharing your insights in the comments!
Based on an article in ‘Parents with Confidence’.