3 Ways to Calm an Anxious Child

3 Ways to Calm an Anxious Child

Imagine that it's a warm summer day and that you are on route to the zoo. Your child has been expressing for weeks that they really want to go, and you have finally been able to carve out the time in your schedule to make this happen. All of a sudden you catch a glimpse of your child curling up in a ball. "What could this possibly be about", you wonder as you KNOW that she had eight hours of sleep last night and a good breakfast. All of a sudden, she tells you. "I don't want to go to the zoo!" She exclaims. "The animals there are scary, and there are WAY too many people there." As much as you don't want to admit it, there is a part of you that feels completely flabbergasted. She has been talking about going to the zoo ALL WEEK.  If this exchange sounds familiar to you and you have found yourself frustrated in these types of circumstances, know that you are NOT alone. Here are three techniques that you can use to calm an anxious child that promote collaboration and problem solving capacities as well as help children to feel less overwhelmed by the feelings that they have. 

1) Name the Bad Feelings

For younger children, it can be helpful to have them give their bad feelings a silly name, and to teach kids to "boss" those feelings around. This is a way to give children agency over their feelings and not feel as overwhelmed and out of control by what they are feeling. Ex: "Go away ___ you are making me feel bad!"

This can also be accomplished by having your child create a character to represent what they are worried about, and have them 'teach' that character ways to manage what they are worried about. In the right circumstance, this can give an anxious child just enough 'distance' from a situation to see that there are multiple solutions to solving the problem in front of them.  For example, in the case of the zoo, ask your child what they would tell their 'worry character' if that character was scared about going to the zoo. 

2) Write it Out and Throw it Out

 When possible, have your child write out what they are worried about on a piece of paper, crumple up the paper and then throw it out. Then, work with your child to write a "new story". Children who are worried usually have a 'story' in their mind about how a situation is going to work out and you can play a pivotal role in helping them to write a "new end" to their story. Ex: "The noise upstairs isn't a robber, it is a person just like us. Let's say go say hello to him so you can see that he isn't someone to be afraid of. "

3)  Set Aside "worry time". 

For children who suffer from pervasive anxiety, it can be helpful to set aside "worry time" each day at the same time. During this time, pick a designated spot in the house and provide your child with the opportunity to write down their worries for a prescribed period of time. Ex: Five minutes. Once this time is up, read the list with your child and discuss the worries. This gives a child an opportunity to not only discuss things that are bothering them, but the ability to feel validated because they are being heard.