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Like adults, all children experience moments of stress and anxiety. But unlike adults, children may not have mastered the skills that can help them cope with stressful moments.
The problem with unmanaged stress and anxiety is that it eventually affects other areas of your child’s life.
A stressed child is more likely to exhibit problem behaviors such as aggressive or disrespectful behavior, have long and frequent temper tantrums, show less interest in activities that previously interested them, withdraw from friends and family, and so on.
A child struggling with stress and anxiety may also have a poorer appetite, more sleep disturbances, and more health problems (such as skin rashes, eczema outbreaks, or even repeated colds). This article provides a complete list of the signs and symptoms of anxiety in children.
The good news is that there are powerful and calming strategies that can help your child find moments of peace.
15 things you can do to help your child find calm
1) Propose fun yoga exercises. Yoga exercises for kids are great not only because they help them relieve stress, but also because they are a fun physical activity.
Most children will love animal yoga, where they can “crawl like a snake” or “hop like a frog. You can make up the instructions as you go, or try these animal yoga cards, which are specially designed for young children. Your child will also enjoy and benefit from any other stretching exercises you can come up with.
2) Suggest something physical like jumping on a trampoline, jumping rope, running, swimming, playing on a monkey bar, and so on.
3) Activities designed to help children concentrate are also extremely helpful in reducing stress and anxiety. They work because they help your child focus on something other than his or her anxiety. These age-appropriate executive function activities are designed for children ages 4 to 9 to help them practice different skills and find calm.
4) Have your child engage in an artistic activity such as play dough, painting, etc.
5) Many scientific studies have shown that mindfulness is very effective in reducing stress and anxiety in children. The good news is that there are many simple mindfulness activities that are very effective with young children.
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You can also grab your free copy of the 5-4-3-2-1 mindfulness strategy below.
6) Although more research is necessary, some studies suggest that chewing gum may help relieve stress.
Several experts say that it may help modulate cortisol levels, which in turn may help reduce anxiety and stress. In other words, giving your child chewing gum or something crunchy to chew on (like apple or carrot slices) is an easy way to help them calm down.
7) Suggest any distraction you can think of: playing a video game, playing with a favorite toy, watching a movie, listening to music, etc. will all help your child to calm down.
8) Encourage your child to help you cook. Kneading dough is a very effective stress management strategy.
9) Give your child bubble wrap to pop. You can also get them different Pop It toys that they can use whenever they need to. Squeeze toys are also effective in dealing with stress and anxiety.
10) Read a book together.
11) Take a walk together. You can make the walk more interesting by giving them specific instructions, such as “Pick up five different leaves” or “Pick up five green things. This can also help them focus more on their environment and less on their stress.
12) Beading activities are very effective because they help children focus on something other than their anxiety.
13) Give your child old newspapers to crumple up and throw in a basket.
14) If you have a garden, let them participate in gardening. They can plant seeds or pull out weeds (great for developing their fine motor skills) or rake leaves (which helps provide proprioceptive input (deep pressure) to their muscles and joints).
15) If available, encourage your child to play a musical instrument.
While the approaches proposed here provide temporary management of your child’s anxiety, they do not help them to develop strategies that they can use on their own to manage anxiety more effectively. This is why it is important to develop a comprehensive strategy to help your child better manage their anxiety.
A comprehensive approach to helping an anxious child
We all feel anxious from time to time, and anxiety is not always a negative emotion. But anxiety can be distressing, and it can affect us in very negative ways.
Anxiety is not an emotion that ever goes away. This is why it’s important to help your child develop effective coping mechanisms to manage their anxiety.
They need to become familiar with different emotions, understand the situations that make them most anxious, recognize how their body feels when they get anxious, and develop specific, proven strategies to help them feel calm.
This process is often a long one and will not result in overnight success, but it will help your child begin to manage their stress on their own, now and in the future. Resources such as The Emotions Kit are full of helpful, age-appropriate tips that can help.
Final thoughts on calming strategies for children
You probably already know that trying to calm a child in the midst of a meltdown is difficult and frustrating. That’s why all the experts recommend that you intervene as soon as you see the first signs of your child’s distress.
In other words, observe your child to identify the behaviors that lead to his or her acting out. If necessary, grab a journal and write down their behavior over the course of a week to help you better understand and manage it.
By responding before they have a meltdown, you have a better chance of helping them manage their stress and anxiety.