With summer ending and kids returning to school, many children experience some level of stress – more specifically, school anxiety. Most of us have heard of the benefits of getting more sleep and increasing our exercise to relieve it, but here are a few lesser known techniques to use. We can teach children to recognize and deal with anxiety in healthy ways. Guide children through these methods until they are able to use them on their own.
- Accept the anxiety
The most obvious, most overlooked and most difficult part of dealing with anxiety is to accept that you are having anxiety. Knowing is more than half the battle and accepting the facts is the first step to overcoming the challenge. Defining anxiety as an emotional response simplifies the situation. As Marla W. Deibler, author of the Psych Central blog “Therapy That Works”, has said, “anxiety is just a feeling, like any other feeling.”
- Feelings are meant to be felt and it’s OK to have anxiety from time to time.
Remember that the brain can play tricks on us. A panic attack can mimic a heart attack. Recognizing anxiety for what it is, can relieve shame and make it more tolerable. When kids are acting out, present the question as positively as possible: “You are better than this. What’s going on?” Make sure they realize that they are OK and they will get better.
- Change Focus
As the Jedi master taught us, your focus is your reality. Our energy is in what we spend our time thinking about; therefore, it’s vital to ensure that creative powers get used. Worrying about ‘what if’ and the unknown creates anxiety.
- All we need to do is anything else. Literally anything else.
We can guide our children to a different activity and be involved in their change. Knowing that anyone can do anything for 15 minutes can help put things in perspective. Set the timer, because this 15 minutes might seem like an eternity when you are overstressed. Being outdoors is like a reset button for the body. Sunshine and fresh air help our bodies process the vitamins needed to be healthy. Being healthy helps us combat the emotional battles, like anxiety. Getting outside is probably the best option, but any change would do. A card game, board game or a game on the electronic device of your choice. Look for bugs or count clouds. The compliment game is always fun. You take turns trying to give the best compliment to each other.
- Increase time
One sign of children experiencing anxiety is they want more attention from parents. They become clingy. If that’s what they are asking for, that’s what they need. Increasing our time with our children will help them feel loved and more secure, regardless of what we are doing with them. They may want to play and you may feel like you can’t play and make dinner at the same time. The solution is to invite them to help with dinner or with other chores that need your attention.
- Activity that keeps life going will get them out of their heads.
Cook dinner or wash the dishes together. Even though they are anxious, they can still accomplish good things. Having more time with a person who cares will also reduce anxiety and being useful combats the negative ideas that accompany anxiety.
- Catch the negatives and create solutions
While trying to overcome anxiety, negative thoughts bombard the logical brain. It is wise to ‘catch’ the negative thoughts by writing them down – just get them out of your head. You may need to assist younger children in this, but drawing a picture of the negative thought will work just as well. Crumpling and tossing or burning the paper will give the brain evidence that you are stronger than the negativity. They are just words and you can control where they go. Get another paper and create some positive solutions to the worries. Include the opposites to the negatives you got rid of. For example, if the negative thought comes as “You can’t do this. It’s too hard.”, the positive paper would say: “I can do anything. It’s easy and I am worth it!” Empower your children to have control.
Imagine how would you feel if there were no anxiety. What would you be doing if you were not anxious? Smile at yourself in a mirror. Smile at your children and keep smiling until they smile back at you. The opposite of anxiety is peacefulness and happiness. Smiles are contagious, though sometimes, they need to simmer down before you boil over with happiness. See yourself achieving a goal and be calm. Another way to use visualization could be to walk yourself through the worst case scenario and see how you survive it. There are many other relaxation techniques available.
By accepting anxiety, we prepare to deal with it. Changing our focus enables our minds to get away from worries. Increasing time with loved ones strengthens our security and feeling of belonging. When negative feelings show up, catch them and change them into positive solutions. Empower your children by teaching them how to visualize themselves achieving their goals. If everything else fails, try to fool your brain, just as it can fool you. Keep practicing happiness and fake it ’til you make it.