Just like the presentation of anxiety varies between adults and kids, so too do the coping skills. While they may be similar and address the same symptoms (racing thoughts, breathing, heart rate), there are kid-friendly versions of common therapeutic techniques used by professionals.
Ideas for Helping Kids Cope with Anxiety
In this blog, we’ll cover 10 ideas to help kids with anxiety that can work at home or in school. Let’s explore each one and how they help when needed.
1. Sensory Bottles (Calm Down Bottles)
Here’s a quick video tutorial for making calm down bottles from Savy Baby - Educational Activities for Children on YouTube:
Creating these is a fun, crafty activity you can do with your kids and then they can use them on their own. Take a clear water bottle and partially fill it with water. Then add vegetable oil, food coloring, glitter, and small objects of varying sizes and weights. Seal the lid with super glue for a more secure fit.
Then when your kid is feeling overwhelmed or anxious, they can shake the bottle and watch the mixture settle to the bottom. Doing so engages their senses and takes their racing thoughts off of the trigger. They can do this as many times as they need. This also works for kids who exhibit sensory-seeking behaviors.
One great feature of calm down bottles is how you can toss them in a diaper bag or tote bag to take on the go or keep them stored in a convenient spot in the classroom or living room. You can use it in busy restaurants, stores, during car rides, or any time or place they are needed.
2. Quiet Corners (Calming Corners)
This involves carving out a space for your kids to retreat when their thoughts and emotions become a little too much to handle. You can choose a dim closet, a corner of the living room or classroom, a playhouse, or even a favorite chair. Fill the space with soft blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, sensory bottles, etc. Anything that brings them back to a base level of calm is a great addition to the corner.
They can go there when they're anxious, sad, or angry. Give them permission to do so and stay there until they’re ready to come out. That’s their sacred space and hopefully, as long as they know they can go there, they’ll use the space rather than letting their emotions build up and cause an outburst.
Here’s an educational breakdown of the calm down corner from Dr. Weeks Elementary on YouTube:
If you use essential oils, you probably already know the benefits of certain scents. However, if you’re unfamiliar with essential oils, here’s the CliffsNotes version. Of course, lavender is a standup choice right out of the gate. You can use this in a diffuser, a room spray, or in a roller ball that you apply behind the ears or on the wrists.
But did you also know that Bergamot orange, neroli (orange blossom), and lemon may also help with anxiety? You can use these oils the same way. Maybe you’d like to spritz the quiet corner or bedroom.
Chamomile, clary sage, sandalwood, and geranium are also great essential oil choices. You can let your kid sample oils and combine scents that relax them to use in roller balls or diffusers when they’re feeling overwhelmed, too. Scent can be highly personal and what may work for some might not be pleasing to another nose. Trial and error are key here.
Of course, if you’re a teacher or a parent of multiple kids, it’s important to make sure there are no sensitivities or allergies before bringing essential oils or any new or heavy scents into the mix.
4. Square Breathing
This is a common technique taught in therapy. It involves breathing in while counting to 4, holding the breath to the count of 4, then exhaling to 4, and pausing for another 4 before you repeat this process.
It’s effective because it distracts your brain from the stressor and the increased oxygen calms the nervous system. You can do this anywhere without additional props and it works for virtually any situation.
If your kid is anxious, angry, upset, overstimulated, etc., you can coach them through square breathing. For smaller kids, you may want to reduce the count to 2, or just count faster. Little lungs might not be able to hold out for the full 4 seconds. This breathing practice will also help parents that have been pushed to the edge on particularly hard days.
5. Weighted Blankets
If you haven’t experienced a weighted blanket, they’re worth exploring. Even if it’s just for yourself. Weighted blankets have been shown to calm anxiety, increase sleep, and lead to better sleep. There are varying weights, but the main objective is to use slight pressure to stimulate the production of serotonin and melatonin while decreasing cortisol. Therefore, a simple blanket can alleviate anxiety on a physiological level.
6. YouTube Videos
Like the mindfulness apps on our cell phones, YouTube and YouTube Kids have a slew of calming videos. They teach mindfulness, simple meditation, and play relaxing sounds while appealing to kids. Sometimes they feature animations in soothing colors with calming characters too. So, they feel like they’re watching cartoons, but they’re actually getting a dose of mental health wellness.
You’d be surprised how early you can teach a kid to meditate. Even toddlers are able to quiet down and focus on a simple phrase for a few minutes. It might only be 2-5 minutes at first, but even tiny doses are good for racing and maladaptive thoughts.
One suggestion I would make is to pick a few mantras (easy to remember phrases) and let your kid choose one that speaks to them. It will be easier for them to focus on something rather than the vague mission of “quieting their mind.” Combine that with squared breathing and watch their muscles and agitation relax.
8. Thought Reframing
This technique comes from cognitive behavioral therapy and is exactly what it sounds like. You can teach your kid to take unproductive thoughts and beliefs and reframe them until their body begins to act accordingly. Sounds crazy—But therapists all over the world swear by the practice.
For example, instead of your kid panicking and saying, “I have to present my science project tomorrow,” with fear in their heart, they could say, “I get to show off all the hard work I did.”
The relief won’t come overnight, but it teaches them to think about the world around them in a more positive manner. Some therapists would also have them think of the worst thing that could happen in a situation. Maybe Billy is scared he’ll strike out in his baseball game. So, if that happened, how bad would that be?
It helps your kid get to the root of the issue. Is he really worried about his baseball game or is he worried that his coach will be disappointed in him? From there, you can work on addressing specific fears.
9. Get Outside
This goes back to advice women have been giving for decades. If your kid is having a bad day, crying, panicking… take them outside. Something about fresh air, grass beneath their feet, and the sun giving them a fresh dose of vitamin D is perfect for curbing anxiety and depression. There’s a reason that therapists recommend going for a walk when your mental health is struggling. It’s one of the fastest mood boosters around.
While the outdoors aspect may come into play here, there’s something even more potent about exercise. Any type of exercise that gets the heart rate up and the blood pumping produces endorphins.
Endorphins regulate your mood, sleep, increase feelings of pleasure, and relieve pain. They’re natural mood stabilizers and essential for helping reduce anxiety in kids. Forget 30 minutes at recess because kids need more activity than that. They thrive on movement and play. If your kid is overly anxious or has suddenly become weighed down with it, consider getting them moving with some yoga, a dance video, a walk in the park, or a rambunctious game of tag.
Anxiety Tools for Kids: Final Thoughts
Many kids experience overwhelming thoughts and feelings throughout their lives, but the good news is as parents and educators you can provide tools, coping skills, and other relaxation techniques to help them navigate through.
Bio: Breanna Leslie
I’m a former therapist turned writer. I earned a master’s in psychology in 2015 but ultimately decided I’d like to be more present for my family. Currently, I’m a stay-at-home mother of two toddlers (with another baby on the way). I enjoy writing in the parenting and home/DIY niches. I also write fiction and have been published in a handful of literary magazines and a fiction anthology. In my spare time, I enjoy blogging, painting, running, and drinking an absurd amount of coffee!
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