Some children worry more than others; I know this from experience. One of our daughters feels things deeply and intensely and while this is a blessing, it can also be a “curse”.
Some amount of anxiety is normal in children. Everyone feels anxious when they are faced with the unknown or when they are in a situation that has aroused anxiety in the past.
While anxiety is common in childhood, especially when transitions are involved (starting or changing schools, moving to a new neighborhood, changing teachers, starting a new activity, etc.), many children become less anxious as they grow older and as they learn to better manage their emotions.
We now know that strengthening your child’s ability to manage big emotions such as anxiety is not about teaching them to “not feel anxious”. It is about helping them to identify coping skills to deal with their anxiety.
This article will look at:
- Effective coping skills for kids with anxiety
- Meditation and mindfulness as effective coping strategies for anxiety in children
- Why you should use physical exercise as an effective coping skill for anxiety for kids
- How to use creative activities as effective anxiety coping skills for kids
Coping skills for kids with anxiety
Having a child prone to anxiety can be difficult for both kids and their parents. But this emotion is normal and helping your child understand that it is okay to feel anxious, and that it is normal to have big emotions, is an important step in teaching them to manage their anxiety more effectively.
Helping them identify coping strategies for anxiety is one of the most effective ways to help them manage their anxiety by themselves.
Determining coping skills for kids with anxiety helps teach them what to do when they experience anxiety in different situations so that they can process their feelings and cope more effectively with anxiety-provoking situations.
Here are some effective coping skills if your child is struggling with anxiety.
Meditation and mindfulness strategies
If your child struggles with anxiety, meditation and mindfulness activities can help. Several studies suggest that mindfulness can help boost your child’s ability to deal with difficult emotions and reduce their stress and anxiety.
In one study, 97 children aged between nine and 10-years-old participated in a mindfulness-based approach that sought to determine how such an approach could improve children’s self-regulation capacities and help reduce stress. For 12 weeks, they received breathing exercises, yoga interventions and guided meditation practice.
The results showed that these children had lower stress levels, less intrusive thoughts and were better able manage their emotions.
The good news is that there are many simple meditation and mindfulness activities that your child can use when they are feeling anxious. Here are just eight of them:
1) Teach your child deep breathing exercises for anxiety. For example, you can teach them to breathe using a pinwheel: when they breathe out, their breath should turn the pinwheel. Or you can use feathers: Have your child pick a feather and place in or a flat surface such as a table and ask them to use their breath to move it across the table.
2) Familiarize your child with Goleman’s “Breathing buddy” exercise. Ask them to take their favorite teddy (or whatever else they would like) and place it on their belly. Tell them that when they breath in, their teddy should rise and when they breath out, it should fall. Breathing exercises are among the most effective for kids struggling with anxiety.
3) Introduce your child to yoga. Resources such as the ThinkFun Yoga Spinner Yoga Game are great tools for introducing your anxious child to mindfulness meditation. Any time they feel anxious, they can spin the spinner and perform the pose on the corresponding Yoga Pose Card, then hold steady for 10 seconds.
4) Adopting a body-scan meditation routine is an easy way to introduce a stressed or anxious child to mindfulness meditation. It involves teaching your child to pay attention to the different parts of their body when they are feeling anxious.
For example, they can lie down, close their eyes, and focus on their toes, then on their feet, then on their legs, etc.
5) Kneading is an activity that not only stimulates the senses; it is also a great mindfulness activity that can help your child cope with stress and anxiety more effectively. Stress balls are good coping tools for kids with anxiety because they help distract them from their feelings.
It is important to choose good stress balls that help strengthen your child’s hand and finger muscles. A pack of sensory toys is also a great option because it can allow your child to choose the tool that best fits their mood at any given time.
7) Blowing bubbles is an activity many kids enjoy, and it is also a great meditation mindfulness activity for helping your anxious child concentrate on something other than their anxiety. You can ask them to imagine that the bubbles are their worries disappearing as they blow them away.
8) The 5-4-3-2-1 mindfulness exercise is a powerful and effective coping tool that can help your anxious child find calm. It works by helping them focus on something other than their anxiety. It involves your child naming:
- 5 things that they can see around them
- 4 things that they can touch
- 3 things that they can hear
- 2 things that they can smell
- 1 thing that they can taste
Here is a free visual copy you can download and use with your child.
Creative activities are highly effective in helping kids cope with their anxiety. They work because they distract your child from their feelings.
Any type of creative activity that can draw your child’s attention away from their emotions is good for them. Here are four activities that they might enjoy.
- Mandalas are great activities because the repetitive actions required help your child concentrate, focus on the present moment and find calm. You can easily make your own mandalas or get books here (for younger kids) or here (from age 4 and above).
- Painting is an effective coping strategy for anxious children.
- Any activities that encourage your child to focus and concentrate are great for helping them cope with their anxiety. This guide has over 100 activities designed to boost your child’s concentration and help them focus on specific details.
- If your kid is old enough, they can write about the reasons making them anxious, read them out loud to you, and then tear the paper and throw it away. This is a powerful strategy because it helps them release their anxiety.
You can also give your child a journal in which they can write about their worries. That said, focusing on anxiety can make that anxiety worse. It is therefore important that they also writes down what they succeeded in doing despite feeling anxious, or at least one positive thing that they remember despite feelings of anxiousness.
You can also encourage younger children to draw their anxiety then tear the paper and throw it away.
Physical exercises to help reduce your child’s anxiety
Physical activity is a great way to release stress and anxiety. When your child is active, their brain releases dopamine, the “feel-good” hormone, which helps them feel better. Ensuring that they regularly participate in sports both indoors and outdoors will help them cope with their anxiety more effectively.
Here are four easy things that you can do:
- Propose regular opportunities for your child to keep active. Exercise is not just about walking, running or swimming. Even activities such as raking leaves, riding their bikes, playing hide and seek, skateboarding, skipping, playing with their hula hoops, and so on are all activities that can help them keep active.
- Invest in games that your child can play indoors. Games such as ping pong, indoor basketball, a punching bag, steppingstones, etc. are all great options that will help them stay active.
- Trampolines will ensure that your child is getting their exercise, and you can choose from outdoor and indoor trampolines depending on your situation.
- Put on music and dance! Or encourage your child to learn a new choreography.
Additional coping strategies for anxious kids
- Scripts work because they help break children’s anxious cycle. Teach your child a script that they can use whenever they are feeling anxious: “I know that I can make it”, “I know that this will pass”.
That said, it is important to avoid invalidating their emotions by teaching them harmful scripts such as “I’m not feeling anxious”. The best strategy is to help them understand that anxiety does not – and should not – prevent them from living.
- Worry dolls originated from Guatemala and were used to help kids get rid of their anxiety. 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 are perfect coping tools because they can help your child to externalize them emotions (by passing them onto the doll).
You could ask your child 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 or get reasonably priced Guatemalan worry dolls here.
- Worry Eaters are colorful puppets that make good coping tools for kids struggling with anxiety. Their zippered mouths are designed to eat up all your child’s worries!
Durable coping strategies for anxiety in children
Identifying coping strategies for kids with anxiety is important, but it is the last step in helping your child learn to manage their anxiety by themselves.
In other words, before your child can learn how to cope with anxiety, they need to be able to easily identify this emotion and to understand how it manifests in their body. They cannot deal effectively with anxiety if they are unable to clearly identify different emotions.
Age-appropriate tools can help teach them to understand different emotions, to become more aware of their triggers and to better identify how strong emotions feel in the body.
Once your child has learned to identify their emotions and their triggers, you can help them create an anxiety kit with the coping tools that they choose.
Prepare a calm-down spot in your house – that can be in their room – and fill a box with tools that they can use to cope with their anxiety such as fidget toys, books, activity or coloring books, calm-down jars, teddies, stress balls, etc. The Emotions Kit proposes different coping strategies that they can choose from to better cope with their anxiety.
As your child grows older, their anxieties tend to decrease as they develop effective coping skills to deal with difficult emotions.
That said, anxiety may also be the sign of a problem requiring the intervention of a professional. Please seek help if your child has crippling anxiety that is affecting their family and school life, or if you feel overwhelmed and unable to help them develop coping skills to manage their anxiety.
References and further resources