TIPS FOR SOOTHING ANXIETY FOR KIDS
Becky Stellmacher, Guest Blogger, Former Samaritan Therapist
When an infant is upset, a parent can often soothe him or her. When a child or teen needs calming, a parent can help by teaching him or her how to self soothe. It is important to remember that whatever sensory stimulation soothed a child or adolescent as an infant most likely will be soothing to him or her now.
Here are some ideas:
Sight – What he or she sees impacts your child. It may incite excitement, create fear, or promote violence. Encourage your child to really look at nature in your yard or during a walk and encourage your child to look at the moon and the stars during these early fall evenings. Be cognizant of what your child is viewing on his/her tablet, phone, or computer.
Sound – Play soothing or joyful music. Create a playlist on Spotify with music your child finds calming. The Spotify app is free with ads – many fewer ads than the radio. You can create and play specific playlists. Create a playlist with your child to listen to when they are upset. Some children who have trouble going to sleep may benefit from listening to the same calming music each night before drifting off. While music can be soothing, remember it can also be invigorating or disruptive. Ask your teens to share what they listen to and talk about when/why they listen to it. Be curious. As much as possible, promote music with a calming, positive or empowering message – especially before sleep.
Smell – Aromatherapy can be effective for self-soothing. Per those who use aromatherapy, different scents evoke different responses. Vanilla is calming for some. Peppermint is reported to be invigorating. Lavender is purported to promote sleep. Is there a scent your child finds soothing?
Touch – Many babies calm with a favorite stuffed animal or blanket. This is often because of how it feels. Comfy clothing, a favorite blanket or a chair a child loves to sit in may provide soothing because of the tactile sensation it provides.
Taste – Many young people as well as adults find certain foods comforting. Food can help soothe your child. However, as many children and adolescents find solace in sweets, moderation is recommended J.
Motion can also be beneficial. Rocking, swinging, jumping on a trampoline, going for a walk or jog, and riding a bike are all things that some young people find soothing. Engaging in the activity with your child may also soothe you. J
These two techniques are classics which some kids may have been introduced to at school.
Smell the Flower/Blow Out the Candle: Smell a flower on the inhale, and then blow out a candle on the exhale. Pretend to hold a flower to your nose as you “smell the flower,” then put your pointer finger to your mouth as you “blow out the candle.”
Square Breathing: Parents can coach your kids on this one. Standing in front of the child, draw a square with your pointer finger while speaking/counting: “Breathe in 2, 3, 4” as you draw the top of the square, “Hold 2, 3, 4” as you draw the first side of the square, “Breathe out 2, 3, 4” as you draw the bottom of the square, “Relax 2, 3, 4” as you complete the last side of the square. Repeat multiple times.
Reminder: There are multiple YouTube videos that demonstrate different breathing techniques for kids and you might find one that works better than either of these for your child. PLEASE remember that kids will likely use breathing techniques if they see their parents use them when upset, or if their parents coach them in breathing practice and use them when the child is upset.
This is beneficial for most people, but especially for anxious kids: Talk with your child without TV, music, computer, phone or other distractions, focusing on them, listening empathically to them, not providing solutions or trying to “fix anything.” Doing this for 15 minutes a day, before bed, is often beneficial for an anxious child or teen.
Note: Parents of young people of any age may provide ideas for minimizing worry but should not tell their child to “Just stop worrying” as that tends to end communication. Parent should always ask if there’s any way they can help and remind the young person they are loved and that the parent will always be there to keep them safe and provide support.
General thoughts/recommendations for parents:
- Remember this is a scary time for everyone. Remind kids that you care for them and will keep them safe, as will other adults in charge of them. Discuss this regularly. Remind your child often if he or she is anxious. Remind them who keeps them safe in school or when in childcare. Children need to know who trusted adults are and be able to identify those people in their lives.
- Be cautious of what you say in front of children. Children, of all ages, listen to adults ALWAYS, even when the adults think they are busy doing something else or “won’t know” what the adults are talking about. However, while a child may or may not be able to process what is said he or she will sense the adult’s concern or fear. Before sharing information with a child, parents should ask themselves, “Is this an adult issue or a kid issue?” It’s best to err on the side of caution, and then share accordingly, avoiding most adult topics. If a parent chooses to share, he or she should remember the child’s age and level of understanding. Simple is better when explaining most things to young children. A reminder: Bright children, who understand many above age/grade level things, may become exponentially more concerned and/or anxious when information about the coronavirus, Black Lives Matter, or current politics is shared or overheard as they often ruminate on the potential implications.
- Remember in this, or any situation really, there are facts and feelings. The facts will not change, but feelings are ever changing. Kids and parents often benefit from the reminder that feelings can’t change facts. Working with children to figure out which things are facts and which are feelings may be helpful during the pandemic, but will also be beneficial for young people in the future. Parents may choose to address the facts in any situation, but should always do their best to validate their child’s feelings in EVERY situation.
One Last Suggestion for Parents
Spend time with your child or teen alone each week. Allow them to choose an activity – within reason. Do NOT engage in a required activity, i.e. not homework, a lesson, practice, etc. Do something recreational together – a game, craft or outdoor activity. Make the time child-oriented, remembering you don’t need to go anywhere or spend money to enjoy time with each other. Your goal is to engage with your child in high quality interaction. Do not discuss behavior issues or other parent concerns when together. Have some fun and enjoy being with your child or teen!
Paraphrased from: Taylor, J. (2019). High-Impact Strategies to Reduce Chronic Misbehavior. Presentation, Appleton, WI
For more information during the pandemic (or any other time J)
https://www.heysigmund.com/ – General information with a focus on parenting anxious children or teens
https://www.additudemag.com/ – Info about all attention issues with loads of information including tips for teaching your child at home – which may be beneficial whether your child has attention issues or not
Note: These sites have info for all ages and life stages.