This post contains affiliate links for your convenience
We now know that using age-appropriate strategies to help children to learn to manage their big emotions by themselves is the most effective path to help calm your anxious child.
But we also know that teaching them to deal effectively with difficult emotions can seem like an endless journey and can leave you pulling your hair out in despair!
The development of children’s emotional intelligence is often a long and somewhat slippery process and having multiple solutions when you have an anxious or nervous child can make life easier for everyone.
In other words, it always helps to be aware of multiple tools that can help calm an anxious child.
Below is a compilation of 50 techniques to help calm your anxious child by themselves.
Given that dealing with anxiety in children is complicated, and that not every child will respond to potential solutions the same way, feel free to use only the option you feel are best adapted to your anxious child.
That said, a technique that works today may not work tomorrow. Proposing multiple calm-down options that your anxious child can use can help strengthen their emotion-regulation skills by giving them multiple tools to deal with big emotions by themselves.
Suggestions for using these tips to calm child anxiety
1. Choose the tips that best fit your child’s needs and personality, write them down or download corresponding images from the Internet to make coping cards (Pixabay has lots of free images that will do very nicely) and print and laminate the cards. If this feels like too much trouble, 50+ ready-to-use cards are available here.
2. Remember to go through each card at least once with your child and to explain how each activity on the card works. For example, if they pick the card with an anxiety stone, they need to know that they should rub the stone until they feel less anxious.
3. Punch a hole into the cards and attach them (for example using a keyring) or place them in box.
4. Place the cards where your anxious child can access them easily.
Remember that like with all emotions, it is easier to deal with your child’s anxiety before it gets out of hand. Age-appropriate resources such as The Emotions Kit can help teach your child to be more aware of how big emotions manifest in their body and make it easier for them to control emotions such as anger and anxiety.
How to help my anxious child: 50 tips to calm a child with anxiety
1) Worry dolls can help calm anxious children
Worry dolls originated from Guatemala and were used to help kids get rid of their anxiety. These dolls were originally made from wood, wire materials, cotton, cardboard and clay, and their clothes were made from wool and a specific fabric common in Guatemala.
According to Guatemalan traditions, these dolls, found in sets of six, were supposed to correspond to different days of the week/different worries. The dolls were originally used at night to help calm children’s fears.
The child could:
• choose one doll corresponding to their feelings,
• tell the doll what they wanted it to take away,
• caress the doll’s stomach so that their worries (your child’s) do it (the doll) no harm,
• place the doll under their pillow.
In the morning, the child’s worries would be gone.
Worry dolls can help children struggling with anxiety because they make it possible for them to express their feelings and worries and to externalize them (by passing them onto the doll which knows how to deal with them).
You can adapt worry dolls to your specific situation and to whatever you feel will calm your child’s anxiety most effectively.
For example, you could ask them to choose as many dolls as they need and to tell one worry to each doll, or ask them to choose one doll per night. You can make your own worry dolls with your child or get reasonably priced Guatemalan worry dolls here.
2) Hugs are great for calming anxious children
There is scientific evidence that hugs help release hormones which can increase your child’s overall well-being.
3) A crystal worry stone
Giving your child a crystal worry stone can help teach them to deal with their anxiety. This stone is designed to fit nicely in their hand and they can rub it whenever they are feeling anxious. Its small size makes it practical to carry along everywhere.
4) Anxiety stones can help calm your anxious child
An anxiety stone works much in the same way as an anger stone.
I first heard about this stone from Darlene Riddell who would use it in her class to calm angry children. An anxiety stone can be any stone – you could ask your child to decorate it – that your child takes whenever they are feeling anxious.
Tell them to rub it until they no longer feel anxious.
If you decide to use an anger stone, place it where your child can easily access it by themselves. Explain to them that as soon as they start to feel anxious, they can take the stone and rub it to take the anxious feelings away.
5) Worry eaters can make it easier for your child to deal with their anxiety
Worry Eaters are colorful puppets that can help your child learn to manage strong feelings such as anxiety. Their zippered mouths are designed to eat up all their worries!
6) Weighted blanket
Although more common among children with special needs, science suggests that by exerting pressure, weighted blankets have a calming effect on the body and can be beneficial for many kids struggling with anxiety. It is always a good idea to get advice from an occupational therapist before using a weighted blanket.
7) Anxiety pillows
Anxiety pillows are designed to give your child something to hold during a moment of anxiety. You can make your own pillows using colorful fabric or fabric with interesting designs, or get store-bought pillows. Your child can hug their pillow when they feel overwhelmed by their emotions.
8) Chewing gum is effective in calming down children with anxiety
Several studies have found that oral sensory activities such as chewing gum can relieve children’s stress and anxiety. Chewing can also help reduce children’s anger.
Although oral sensory activities may help your child cope with anger, stress or anxiety at a specific moment, they are not the best strategy because overusing oral sensory activities can lead to serious health problems later in life.
If you decide to go with this option, remember to try sugar-free chewing gum.
9) Make your anxious child jump on the trampoline
Jumping on a trampoline helps distract your child and also helps them release their stress and anxiety.
10) Ask your child to blow a feather across a table
Visual breathing exercises are known to help calm anxiety in both children and adults.
Provide your child with brightly-colored feathers. Ask them to pick a feather of their choice and place in on a flat surface (for example, a table). Tell them that when they breathe out, the feather should move across the table. They need to push it as far as possible using their breath.
11) Make your anxious child breathe using a pinwheel
Like feathers, a pinwheel can help calm your child by encouraging them to breathe appropriately. When they breathe out, their breadth should turn the pinwheel.
12) Calm-down jars are great for comforting an anxious child
Calm-down jars or bottles can help your child manage their anxiety by distracting them from it. They are particularly effective because they enable them to block out all the senses and focus on a single sense.
The best thing about these jars is that they are very simple to make. You need an empty container (jar, bottle), liquid to fill the container (baby oil, vegetable oil, corn syrup, water) and objects to put in the jar (beads, glitter, seashells, etc.)
13) Ask your child to run around the house (car, park…)
Running is a great activity for distracting your child from their anxiety and can free them from anxious feelings.
14) Essential oils
Some essential oils have been proven to help angry, anxious or hyperactive kids, but not all essential oils are safe to use with kids.
Before using essential oils with young kids, it is important to know which essential oils are safest for kids and how to use them.
15) Make your child play the silence game
Playing the silence game with your child can help calm their anxiety. This game involves “saying and doing nothing”. Sit close to your child (you can take them into your arms) and give them the opportunity to calm down by themselves.
16) Ask your child to ride a bike
Much like running, riding a bike helps distract your child from their anxiety and can thus help reduce anxious feelings.
17) Propose a Mandala
According to the available research, drawing is a very effective anxiety management tool. A Mandala is an excellent art therapy for calming children. It proposes an abstract design that uses evenly distributed patterns to create a feeling of balance and harmony.
18) Make your child play with Play-doh
Kneading is a great activity that helps focus your child and, in so doing, helps reduce their anxiety. Home-made play-dough is easy to make and is a good alternative option to store bought play-doh. A super-easy recipe is available here.
19) Use a candle to reduce your child’s anxiety
Blowing a candle helps your child calm down by enabling them to focus on their breadth. This is a dangerous activity and therefore requires your presence if you decide to use it.
Remember that you can change the distance from which your child blows out the candle to make the activity last longer.
20) Ask your child to sort legos into different colors
Sorting legos into different colors is not only helpful for developing your child’s cognitive skills, it can also help them calm down by distracting them from their anxiety.
21) Give your child a squishy bag
Squishy bags are a great sensory resource that can help your child explore their sense of touch and turn their attention away from their anxiety. The good news is that it’s easy to make your own squishy bags. You’ll find great instructions here.
22) Let your child play with grains
Playing with grains keeps your child’s hands busy and can also develop their fine motor skills.
Provide containers (bottles, jars) with different sizes, cups with different sizes, and spoons (or something to scoop with). Your child can sit on a blanket on the floor (makes tidying up easier) and transfer the grains from one bottle to another.
23) Get your child to blow bubbles
Blowing bubbles helps calm your child’s anxiety by helping them practice their breathing and by distracting them from their worries.
24) Put on some music
Listening to music is an easy way to help your anxious child calm down.
25) Propose a scavenger hunt
A scavenger hunt is a fun way to get your child to focus on something other than their anxiety.
26) Give your child fabric to cut
Give your child safety scissors and pieces of fabric that they can cut. This repetitive activity will help calm their anxiety.
27) Give them old journals and newspapers to shred
Shredding old journals and newspapers is a good way to help your child release stress and anxiety. They can cut them however they want, or cut out and group images according to colors or families (animals, food, people, etc.)
28) Ask your child to play with kinetic sand
Playing with kinetic sand is a great sensory activity that helps your child focus on their sense of touch. This is a great activity for helping them release stress and anxiety.
29) Propose a sensory bin
A sensory bin is a container (for example a clear storage container or a shallow container such as a shallow cardboard box) in which you place a sensory base (legos, buttons, lentils, rice, pasta, sand, etc), objects (legos, animal figures, beads natural materials – sea shells, acorns, etc.) and scoops (can be cups, spoons), then let your child experiment with the different things in the bin.
30) Ask your child to go to their calm-down spot
A calm-down spot is a space (can be a corner in your house, their room, etc.) where your child has a collection of things that they enjoy (books, games, music, etc.) and where they can go if they need to calm down.
31) Have your child make a bracelet
Making a bracelet requires repetitive threading motions that can help distract your child from their anxiety.
32) Get your child to do a matching activity
Matching activities are not only great for developing your child’s cognitive and executive function skills, they can also help distract them from their anxiety. This guide has great activities if your child is between four and nine.
33) Ask your child to walk along a line
Walking along a line is calming because the simple act of focusing on how the right and the left foot alternate can help get your child into a meditative state.
Walking meditation is used in Montessori schools through the “walking on the line” activity which helps develop kids’ executive functions but also echoes mindfulness.
If you can, make different patterns on the floor using colorful adhesive tape where your child can practice walking along the line. This article has other great meditation and mindfulness activities that you child could enjoy.
34) Ask your child to play a videogame
Playing a videogame can help reduce your child’s anxiety by turning their attention to something enjoyable. However, it is important to set down rules about the games that they can play and to establish a sound “video game philosophy” if you choose this path.
35) Have your child kick a ball
Ball games are great at helping anxious children release their anxiety.
36) Ask them to push against a wall
Activities that involve “heavy work” such as pushing against a wall have been proven to be effective in focusing kids’ attention and reducing anxiety.
37) Propose a puzzle
Puzzles are a great way to distract your child from their anxiety and they can also help develop their executive function skills.
38) Try walking meditation
Below is a form of walking meditation practiced in several Montessori schools
a) Give your child a bell
b) If you would like to participate alongside them, take a bell as well (every participant should have a bell)
c) Walk around the room in circles while ensuring that no bell makes a sound.
d) Repeat the exercise for as long as is necessary
39) Give your child apples (or any other crunchy, chewy snack)
Just like chewing gum, eating crunchy or chewy snacks have been found to help reduce anxiety in both children and adults. Other chewy foods include dried fruit, dates, celery and cheese.
40) Have your child watch fish
Recent research undertaken by researchers from Plymouth University and the University of Exeter suggests that watching fish in an aquarium is a highly soothing activity.
The researchers also found that the more the fish, the more it was calming to watch them. If you can afford it, getting your child a reasonably sized aquarium might just do wonders for their anxiety.
41) Get them an indoor fountain
Just like watching fish, looking at an indoor fountain can help calm an anxious child. Sand-timers can also be relaxing. For example, getting your child a 5-minute sand-timer can make it easier to focus on something else for a set period of time.
42) The 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique
The 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique is a strategy that works like magic when it comes to calming down an anxious child. Like all the strategies mentioned here, it works best before your child gets “out of control”.
It involves asking your child to name 5 things that they can see, 4 things that they can hear, 3 things that they can feel, 2 things that they can smell and 1 thing that they can taste. Here is a printable visual that you can download for free.
43) Ask your child to draw
Drawing is an effective way to help an anxious or stressed child cope with their anxiety. They can either draw what they are feeling or whatever comes to mind.
44) Propose finger painting
Finger painting helps distract your child from their worries which helps calm them down. Finger painting is also an awesome sensory activity that makes it possible for them to express themselves.
45) Make your child read
Reading is a great way to help your child deal with anxious feelings. Here a few tips if you have a reluctant reader.
46) Stress balls can help calm your child’s anxiety
Stress Balls are a sensory activity that allow your child to calm anxiety by focusing on their sense of touch. They come in many different shapes and colors and you can also make your own with simple everyday materials.
47) Ask your child to skip
Skipping distracts your child from their anxiety and this physical activity helps reduce their anxious feelings.
48) Create an anxiety tool kit
An anxiety tool kit is a container (for example a clear storage container) in which you place objects that can help your child calm down. Any time they feel anxious, they can go to the tool kit and select an object.
Instructions for creating an effective anxiety took kit are available here.
49) Make your child play with an exercise ball
An exercise ball can help release your child’s stress, anxiety and hyperactivity.
50) Chewy Jewelry is great for releasing children’s anxiety
Chewy jewelry (for instance chewy necklaces) work in the same way as chewing gum and apples. The advantage of chewy jewelry is that they reduce the dependence on food as an anxiety-reducing mechanism, and therefore reduce associated health issues such as obesity.
How to effectively calm an anxious child
The thing with anxiety is that it is always easier to manage BEFORE your child goes into complete meltdown. Being aware of their triggers – and helping them learn to recognize those triggers by themselves – is an important phase of teaching them to deal with their anxious feelings more effectively.
Recognizing these triggers also makes it easier to identify a more lasting approach to helping your child cope with their anxiety. The Emotions kit is an age-appropriate resource that can help them learn to identify different emotions, work on what triggers those emotions, and identify ways to deal with them in a socially appropriate manner. This kit can teach you how to calm an anxious child.