As adults, we all imagine that kids are carefree and have nothing to worry about. Helping kids with anxiety is a really important tool to have in your parenting toolbox. Some kids have a constant level of anxiety and others experience situational anxiety. Check out this article on anxiety in kids.
Sometimes we can have situations where our young people are capable of holding it together at school, but then have a meltdown at home. On other occasions the trigger can be home/school transport, playtimes or after school activities.
Whatever the reasons, it is much easier to help anxious kids if we have readily available strategies.
Helping Kids With Anxiety At Home
#1. A Sensory Safe Space (Calm)
As human beings, we all thrive on having a physical space that we can take ourselves to when we are feeling anxious and worried. This can be a great benefit to help kids deal with anxiety and retreat to a safe physical space when they need a bit of time out.
If possible, involve your child in choosing and kitting out this space.
How To Make A Safe Space For Your Child
- What sort of safe space design will be chosen?
- A small tent is ideal as this provides an enclosed, protected, unique environment.
- Alternatives could be a mosquito net or a designated corner of a room
- Where will this safe space be?
- It could be in your child's bedroom, a spare room, wherever you have a space that you can keep as a semi-permanent place for your child
- How will you make the safe space a cozy one?
- Add cushions, blankets, a duvet, maybe a bean bag or a chill-out chair
- You want this space to be very comfortable and relaxing for your child
- You can also add favorite soft toys
- Who is allowed into this safe space?
- It is important that all of the family agree on who has access to the space and completely respect this agreement
How to Add The Sensory Element to Your Safe Space
When you have designed and set up the safe space, the next thing on the list is to bring into it some individually selected sensory elements to help your kid to deal with their anxiety.
The Five Senses
Sight: think carefully about making the colour scheme one that your child finds relaxing and de-stresses them. They may also like certain pictures or picture books added to their space.
Smell: experiment with different smells and find ones that relax and nurture your child. You can use a spray to add a gentle smell to the safe space. (Remember, this may be different depending on anxiety levels)
Touch: notice what sort of materials your child likes to feel and have them available inside the tent.
Sound: this sense can be vitally important to help your child to become less anxious. Some children will respond best to noise cancelling headphones to shut off the noise of the outside world. Other children will become calmer as they listen to certain types of music through their headphones.
Taste: you might find that certain tasters will help to reduce anxiety in your child. (Think about when you feel unwell as an adult, you will probably want the same food that your parents gave you when you were sick.)
Have fun with researching and finding particular toys that your young person likes and that help them to relax. Suggestions include:
- Favourite fidget toys
- Chewy toys
- Light & Sound toys
- Fairly lights / torches
- A heavy or weighted blanket (The pressure of the blanket provides proprioceptive input to the brain and releases a hormone called serotonin which is a calming chemical in the body)
#2. A Sensory Area (Active)
Helping kids with anxiety can involve active, rhythmic activities. A great example of this is to have a trampoline available. This can help your child to use up some energy and focus on themselves as they bounce on the trampoline, effectively shutting out the parts of their world that may be causing their anxiety.
It is really important when helping kids with anxiety, that as adults WE are the responsible ones who set the boundaries and negotiate rules and expectations to stick to. All children need obvious, clear boundaries that they can work within.
This is especially true of kids with anxiety – they need to know that you, as the adult, will allow them to thrive and keep them safe within the agreed boundaries. Kids also need to know that when they operate outside the agreed boundaries, that there WILL be consequences and to know VERY clearly what those consequences are.
It can be very tempting as an adult to allow your child to cross the boundaries and not face the consequences. In the short-term, the adult path can be much easier if you don't follow through with the consequences, BUT in the long-term, you are not doing your child or yourself any favours at all by allowing them to bypass agreed consequences.
Remember, your kids rely on you to give them structure, safety, routine and rules that they can successfully operate within.
Helping kids with anxiety can be very rewarding for all of the family. It is vitally important that you take time to find out what helps to reduce your kids' anxiety. Remember that each child is unique in what works for them. You can then use this information to provide a safe, secure environment to enable your child to deal with their anxiety levels appropriately.
It is also important to think about your state of mind and how you react to your child. Factors that will influence and could serve to decrease or increase levels of anxiety in your child, include your tone of voice, your level of tiredness, your patience and the amount of time you have available.
It is up to you, as the adult, to take a deep breath and keep yourself calm, reasonable and measured when you are helping kids with anxiety. Your own sense of inner calm will give your child unspoken permission to deal with their anxiety in an appropriate manner.
Check out Debbie's free webinar about anxiety in children on February 22nd.