This is some helpful advice from Renee Jain, MAPP.
Her article is entitled “49 Phrases to calm an Anxious Child” Jain advises parents to help a child understand, accept and deal with anxiety. This is an essential life skill, since none of us can evade anxiety or stressful situations entirely.
“Can you draw it?’’ doodling can be a useful outlet for feelings if kids can’t find the right words.
“I love you. You are safe.” Anxiety makes the mind and body feel as if they are in danger. Hearing that you are safe is very powerful coming from a loving parent.
“Let’s pretend we’re blowing up a giant balloon. We’ll take a deep breath and blow it up to the count of 5.” Being advised to take a deep breath when in the middle of a panic attack can be less than helpful, but making it a game might be novel enough to interrupt the panic. Have fun with the process of the pretend balloon inflation. Three deep breaths and exhalations will usually stop the stress response.
“I will say something and I want you to say it exactly as I do: ‘I can do this.’” Do this 10 times at variable volume. This is a trick borrowed from marathon runners to get past “the wall.”
“Why do you think that is?” Can be helpful for older kids who can express how they feel.
“What will happen next?” To help children think through an anxious event and remember that there will be something positive to look forward to after.
“We are an unstoppable team.” Reassure children that you will work together even if you must be apart from them for a time.
Have a battle cry: “I am a warrior!”; “I am unstoppable!”; or “Look out World, here I come!” The physical act of yelling replaces fear with endorphins. It can be fun, too.
“If how you feel was a monster, what would it look like?” Make something concrete and palpable out of a confusing feeling like anxiety.
“I Can’t wait until_______.” Excitement about the future is contagious.
“Let’s put your worry on the shelf while we_______(listen to your favorite song, run around the block, read this story.) Then we can pick it back up again.” Give your child a chance to rest from the worry bag. Especially when they are anxious about something they cannot change in the future.
“This feeling will pass. Let’s get comfortable until it does.” the act of getting comfortable calms both mind and body.
“Let’s learn more about it.”Ask your child questions as needed to let your child explore their fears. Knowledge is power.
“Let’s count________.” No preparation needed for this distraction technique. It can be used anywhere, anytime. Count the number of people wearing boots, the number of kids, hats, or anything in your area. These require observation and thought, both will detract from the anxiety your child is feeling.
“ I need you to tell me when 2 minutes have gone by.” Time is a powerful tool to help an anxious child. By watching a clock or watch for movement, a child has a different focus point than what is happening.
“Close your eyes. Picture this.” Visualization is a powerful technique used to ease both pain and anxiety. Guide your child to imagine someplace safe, warm, and happy where they feel comfortable.
“I get scared/nervous/anxious sometimes too. It’s no fun.” Empathy works wonders in many situations. It might even spark a conversation with your older child about how you overcame anxiety.
“Let’s pull out our calm-down checklist.” Anxiety can hijack the logical brain; carry a checklist of coping skills your child likes. When need arises, use it.
“You are not alone in how you feel.” Pointing out all of the people who may share their fears helps your child understand that overcoming anxiety is universal.
“Tell me the worst thing that could possibly happen.” After you’ve imagined the worst outcome of a situation, talk about the likelihood of it happening. Next, ask your child about the best possible outcome. Finally, ask them about the most likely outcome. This will help a child think more accurately during an anxious experience.
“Worrying is helpful sometimes.” This may seem totally counter-intuitive, but pointing out why anxiety can be useful reassures your child there isn’t something wrong with them for thinking this way.
“What does your thought bubble say?” If your child reads comics they will be familiar with thought bubbles and how they move a story along. They can gain perspective by talking about their thoughts as third-party observers.
“Let’s find some evidence.” Collecting evidence to support or refute your child’s reasons for anxiety helps your child see if the worries are based on fact.
“Let’s have a debate.” Older children really love this exercise because they have permission to debate their parent. Have a point-counterpoint style debate about the reasons for their anxiety. You may gain some helpful insights in the process.
“What is the first piece we need to worry about?” Anxiety often makes mountains out of mole hills. Break the mountain back down into manageable chunks and we can realize that the whole experience isn’t causing anxiety, just one or two parts.
“Let’s list all of the people you love.” Anais Nin is credited with saying “Anxiety is love’s greatest killer.” If that is true, then love can kill anxiety too. By recalling all of the people that your child loves and why, love will replace anxiety.
“Remember when….” Competence breeds confidence. Helping your children recall a time when they overcame anxiety gives them feelings of competence and thereby confidence in their abilities.
“I am proud of you already.” Knowing you are pleased with their efforts, regardless of the outcome, alleviates the need to do something perfectly-a source of stress for kids.
“We’re going for a walk.” Exercise relieves anxiety for up to several hours because it burns excess energy, loosens tense muscles and boosts mood. If your children can’t take a walk right now, have them run in place, bounce on a yoga ball, jump rope or stretch.
“Let’s watch your thought pass by.” Ask your child to pretend the anxious thought is a train that has stopped at the station above their head. In a few minutes, like all trains, the thought will move on to its next destination.
“I’m taking a deep breath.” Model a calming strategy and encourage your child to mirror you.If the child will allow it, hold them close to your chest so they can feel your rhythmic breathing and regulate theirs.
“How can I help you?” Often, children will feel like their anxiety is never-ending. Remind them that relief is on the way, instead of trying to squash kown the worry.
“This feeling will pass”
“Let’s squeeze this stress ball together.” When your children direct their anxiety to a stress ball, they feel emotional relief. Buy a ball, keep a handful of play dough nearby. You can make a homemade stress ball by filling a balloon with flour or rice.
“I see Widdle is worried again. Let’s teach Widdle not to worry.” Create a character to represent the worry, such as Widdle the Worrier. You child can teach Widdle some coping skills.
“I know this is hard.” Acknowledge that the situation is difficult. Your validation shows your children that you respect them.
“Tell me about it.” Listen to your child tell you what’s bothering them without interrupting.Talking it out can help your child process their feelings and maybe come up with a solution.
“I have your smell buddy right here.” A smell buddy, fragrance necklace or diffuser can calm anxiety, especially when filled with lavender, sage,chamomile, sandalwood, or jasmine.
“You are so brave!” Affirm your child’s ability to handle the situation, and you empower them to succeed.
“Which calming strategy do you want to use right now?” Give your children the chance to choose the calming strategy, because each anxious situation is different.
“We’ll get through this together.” Supporting your children with your presence and commitment can empower them to persevere until the scary situation is over.
“What else do you know about______(scary thing)?” When your children face a consistent anxiety, research it when they are calm. Learn as much as possible about it. Ask your children to recall what they’ve learned when the anxiety surfaces again.
“Let’s go to your happy place.” Visualization is an effective tool against anxiety.
“What do you need from me?” Ask your children what they need. It could be a hug, space, or a solution.
“If you give your feeling a color, what would it be?” asking another person to identify what their feeling in the midst of anxiety is nearly impossible. But, asking your children how they feel with a color, gives them a chance to think about their feelings in a simple way. Follow up by asking why the feeling is that color.
“Let me hold you.” Whatever kind of hug your child will allow, provides physical contact and a chance for your child to relax and feel safe.
“Remember when you made it through XYZ?” Reminding your child of a past success will encourage them to persevere in this situation.
“Help me move this wall.” Hard work, like pushing on a wall, relieves tension and emotions. Resistance bands also work.
“Let’s write a new story.” Your children have written a story in their mind about how the future is going to turn out. This future makes them anxious. Accept their story and then ask them to come up with a few more plot lines where the story’s ending is different.
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