We know what it feels like to feel worried about something. Even overly worried, even panicked. So when we see this in our child we feel desperate to help them and helpless when we can’t.
If telling someone “calm down” “relax” and “don’t worry”, worked, well quite frankly, it would have worked by now. But if this isn’t helpful, what is? Let’s take a look at some practical tips to help kids (and adults) begin to learn to calm their anxieties.
But before we do that…
What is anxiety anyway???
Let’s start with what it isn’t.
- It isn’t your child’s fault. If they could stop worrying they would. They don’t like it either.
- It isn’t on purpose. But it does serve a purpose.
Anxiety is prevalent and has been extensively studied in the fields of psychology, neurobiology, workforce development, parenting, you name it.
Anxiety at a fundamental level is a neurobiological (brain) function that has evolved in humans to protect us from danger. The human brain is wired to scan the environment and warn of ensuing threats. When a threat is recognized, the brain rapidly produces chemicals to prepare for “fight, flight, or freeze.” Stress hormones are activated, other unnecessary body systems are temporarily shut down to reserve energy, the heart beats faster to get blood to our muscles so they can prepare to protect. When this happens, the prefrontal cortex – that logical/thinking part of the brain – also briefly shuts down so the more automatic/emotional part of the brain can take over. So essentially, if it seems like your child, or spouse, or whomever, is being completely irrational when panicked, it is because that rational part of their brain is offline. (This speaks to why telling someone to “calm down” doesn’t work.)
Now that we have a basic understanding of the purpose of anxiety, this begs the question, “But my child is safe, so why is she still so anxious?!”
Sometimes the brain sounds a false alarm. And when this happens we get a sense of danger when we are actually physically safe.
Now on to the practical tips:
- Stay composed. Role model for your child what calmness looks like.
- Be curious about your child’s reactions so you can help them problem solve.
- Be planful. Transitions may take more time while you are helping your child manage anxiety. Give yourself a break by allowing for this.
- Don’t state the obvious. Studies show telling someone not to think about worry can actually make them think about it more. Validate your child’s fears but don’t allow the fear to win (to see what I mean see #5)
- Take small steps. Avoiding begets avoidance. Instead, help your child make small advances towards that which worries or scares them. In other words, help them practice being brave.
- Help your child (and yourself) learn to relax. Mindfulness research is showing this stuff works by helping a person to be more in the present moment, to evaluate if thoughts are to be paid attention to or are false alarms. Learning things like relaxation techniques, breathing strategies and yoga helps to calm our bodies and minds.
- If anxiety persists consider consulting your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional. Feeling anxious is normal. When this anxiety continually interferes with daily living more help may be needed.
Was this helpful? Email me your thoughts and experiences trying this technique at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you feeling like the daily struggle is just too much? Are you worried your child may have needs that extend beyond what you are currently able to offer them? Do you live in Central New York? If you are interested in learning more about psychotherapy and play therapy for your child I can be reached at 315-737-3094 or email@example.com
Jennie Mazza Jones, LCSW, CCPT has a private practice located in Clinton NY, where she specializes in providing psychotherapy to children and their caregivers utilizing Play Therapy. Jennie helps kids who long to feel accepted, want to do well, and wish they could control their worries, anger, and behaviors, but struggle because they communicate in a way that many adults don’t understand. She also helps parents/caregivers who want to help the important children in their lives reach their truest potential, but are afraid to make the wrong move, fear the worst, or are just unsure of what to do next. Jennie can be reached 315-737-3094, firstname.lastname@example.org and www.jenniemazzajones.com