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9 Stategies for Building Coping Skills in children with Anxiety
9 Strategies for Building Coping Skills in Children with Anxiety
Learn how to manage the symptoms of anxiety in children with these simple tips for helping your child cope with their anxiety
Article by: Katie Hurley, LCSW
When children are chronically anxious, it’s natural for parents to seek strategies to fix or stop the anxiety. It’s very difficult for parents to see a young child suffer from anxiety, and many well-meaning parents unknowingly exacerbate the anxiety by attempting to protect their children from experiencing negative emotions.
The goal of treatment for anxiety is to help children learn to manage their emotional responses to their triggers. Avoiding triggers won’t help kids learn to cope, and not all triggers can be avoided. In fact, though avoidance might help children feel better in the short-term, it can amplify the fears over time. Children need to learn how to tolerate their feelings of anxiety and to develop coping strategies to manage it.
All kids are different and what works well for one child might not work for another. Learning to manage symptoms of anxiety and cope with triggers takes time and practice. Parents can help their children by trying some of these strategies at home.
Practice Relaxation Strategies
Kids need to learn how to regulate both their emotional and physical responses (they become intertwined) when they go into fight-or-flight mode. Here are some techniques that may help:
· Deep breathing: Teaching your children to “breathe the rainbow” by taking slow deep breaths and thinking about their favorite things to match each color helps them slow their heart rate and relax their muscles. Practice this strategy when calm to increase effectiveness when anxious.
· Progressive muscle relaxation: Most kids tense their muscles when feeling anxious. Many even hold their breath. A simple two-step process helps kids learn to use their muscles to relieve the physical stress they experience when anxious. 1)Tense a specific muscle group (e.g. arms and hands or neck and shoulders) and hold for five seconds and 2) release the muscle group and notice how you feel. Work head-to-toe to better understand all of the muscles affected by anxiety. With practice, children can learn to do this at school.
· Create a relaxation kit: Fill a box with relaxing activities chosen by your child and create a relaxation center somewhere in your home. You might include music, coloring books, fidget toys, a mini sandbox, clay, books, and stuffed animals.
Write It Out
Writing about worries helps children learn to vent their anxious feelings. Anxious kids have a tendency to internalize their anxious thoughts for long periods of time. Often, they don’t want to burden others with their worries. Dedicating time to getting those feelings out for fifteen minutes each day helps children learn to work through their worries. Try to do one of these exercises at the same time each day (an hour before bedtime is a great timeframe as anxiety tends to spike at night):
· Write and tear: Have your child write or draw her worries on a piece of paper, read them to you, and then tear them up and throw them away for the night. This helps kids say their worries out loud and let go of them.
· Worry journal: Keeping a worry journal helps children see how their anxious thoughts improve over time. Writing the worries of the day followed by one positive thought helps break the cycle of negative thinking that can exacerbate anxiety.
· Worry box: This is a great tool to use before bed. Have your child decorate an old tissue box with her/his favorite things or cover it with stickers. Help them to write their worries of the day and place them in the box one-by-one, after they share them with you. Take the box to your room for the night and offer to hold them for them.
When children learn that they have the power to talk back to their worry brains, they feel empowered to cope with anxiety-producing stressors. Teach your child that anxious thoughts make us feel powerless, but talking back to anxious thoughts gives us control over the situation.
· Boss back: Have your child practice saying, “You’re not in charge of me, worry brain! I know I can handle this!” Help your child create specific scripts to target certain triggers.
· Thought stopping: When intrusive thoughts overwhelm kids, they go into fight-or-flight mode. Teach your child to stop anxious thoughts before they snowball by saying, “No! That’s not true!” This technique interrupts the anxious thought cycle.
· Create a character: One thing that helps young children is creating a character to represent the anxiety. It’s easier to talk back to a character they can visualize in the moment.
Childhood anxiety can feel overwhelming for both the child and the parent, but it is treatable. If your child’s anxiety is pervasive and negatively affecting her ability to sleep, attend school, and other areas of her life, seek an evaluation from a licensed mental health practitioner.
101 Positive Things to say to Myself
Deep Breathing Exercises for Kids
A Child Therapist's Favorite Resources for Calming Anxiety in Children
Outdoor Based Reads for your Child
10 Books to Rewild Your Child Outdoor-based reads from board books to YA novels
Have you ever noticed that most of our favorite childhood books star animals? Maybe that’s because before we “grow up,” we feel a natural kinship with what’s wild. We wish we were friends with monkeys and lions. We speak to the trees and they listen. And we long to run free and explore the world.
We’ve rounded up some books that speak to the free spirit of kids—and help them get back in touch with their wild side in the age of screens. From board books and picture books to Young Adult (YA) novels, here 10 tales to rewild your child.
My First Book of Nature by Alain Grée
Introduce babies and toddlers to the natural world through the colorful drawings of a famous French illustrator. This board book teaches that tot about everything from trees and rocks, to fruit and fish.
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema, pictures by Beatriz Vidal
“This is the cloud, all heavy with rain, that shadowed the ground on Kapiti Plain.”
A tale of drought from the Nandi people of Kenya shows kids a way of life entirely rooted in and dependent on the natural world. Originally published in 1909, this story teaches a valuable lesson: nature sustains us all, whether we realize it or not.
Squeak! Goes Climbing in Yosemite National Park by D. Scott Borden, pictures by Mallory Logan
“Wow, how do you just stand on vertical rock like that?” Squeak asks.
Young climbers get the lowdown on the sport from a mouse that hops into a haul bag and makes it all the way up El Cap. Squeak introduces kids to the climbing dictionary and shows them how to face down their fears. Bonus: part of every book sale benefits the Access Fund.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
“He’s just a boy, pretending to be a wolf, pretending to be a king.”
No list of books about rewilding your kid would be complete without a nod to this classic. We all know how the story goes, but here’s a reminder: Max gets in touch with his wild side, imagining that his bedroom is a jungle filled with playful beasts.
Someday a Bird Will Poop on You: A Life Lesson by Sue Salvi, pictures by Megan Kellie
“Probably every single day, somewhere in the world, someone is getting pooped on by a bird.”
A day in nature isn’t always a walk in the park. From bug bites and unexpected downpours, to headwinds and bird BMs, this book imparts the key lesson that things don’t always go our way—and that’s okay. And for the Type II outdoor adventures in your child’s future, this lesson is invaluable.
A-B-Skis by Backcountry’s own Libby Dudek, pictures by Nathan Jarvis
“A is for attitude, the way you think in your head. You decide how your day will go when you get out of bed.”
This alphabet book by a former Olympian runs kids through the skiing experience, from chairlift rides to pizza turns down the bunny slopes. It all takes place in a colorful, animal-filled world that will make any kid excited to gear up for a day on the slopes. Libby also includes tips for parents to make your kid’s first ski day a positive one.
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
“A monkey! A real, live monkey! Ah! How delightful!”
Originally published in 1812 in Germany, this legendary chapter book tells the story of a Swiss family who gets shipwrecked en route to Australia. We follow the Robinsons for over a decade as they eke out an existence on a tropical island, building a treehouse, living in a cave, and growing their own food.
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
“… the most important rule of survival … was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work.”
In this timeless YA novel, a 13-year-old boy must survive in the Canadian wilderness with only a hatchet after a plane crash. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t die! But he does teach your young reader some invaluable lessons about everything from wilderness survival skills to patience and positive thinking.
Call of the Sun Child by Francesa G. Varela
“This is the energy that is life, the glow of connection. In the crow that chases smaller birds. In the stream that flows downhill. In the flower, wilted after a storm, with holes chewed in it by caterpillars.”
This YA take on Climate Science Fiction—a genre that’s been dubbed CliFi—imagines a dystopic world in which humans must live in a windowless dome. But one day, a 16-year-old girl named Sempra becomes curious about life outside the walls of her artificial home. Call of the Sun Child will help your young reader appreciate our wild world, and become an advocate for protecting it.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
“I miss the north side cliff and the waves below, and I miss the way the wind steals your breath like it never belonged to you in the first place.”
Don’t let the disturbing premise scare you—this book will empower teen girls to take on the grisliest of situations, outdoors or in. Hailed as a feminist Lord of the Flies, Wilder Girls tells the tale of three best friends who must tackle an island’s wild forests after a virus spreads through their boarding school.
MS Wellness Activities for Home
Virtual Wellness Program, Activities and Resources from the YMCA of Greater Brandywine
The website to access exercise programs and family programming is www.ymcagbw.org.
Online Activities ... Virtual Field Trips, Movement and Mindfulness, Math Games and More!
Storyboard That - Create your own digital storyboard
Google Arts & Culture - Learn something new & tour the finest art museums
ABCya.com - Literacy Games for PreK through 6th Grade +
Math Playground - Give your brain a workout with these free math games!
Coping Skills Home Practice: Self Care Part One: Physical Activity and Mindfulness
Coping Skills Home Practice
Self-Care Part One: Physical Activity
Self-Care is a very important part of keeping yourself healthy both physically and mentally. Taking good care of yourself helps you to remain happy and successful in your daily life. One way to take care of yourself is by taking time to engage in physical activity on a regular basis.
Physical Activity: Exercising regularly can help individuals manage their stress. Research shows us that regular exercise helps to decrease stress and tension, elevate mood, and raise self-esteem. Exercise prevents anxiety by increasing “feel good” chemicals in our brain like dopamine and “anti-anxiety” chemicals like serotonin.
Physical activity helps productivity. Getting up and moving around increases focus by breaking up long periods of time completing school work or studying. Those who exercise regularly also find that it helps them sleep better at night. Choose an activity that interests you. Look for a virtual lesson online, or a free instructional video on YouTube. See some examples below.
- Walking Hiking Karate Biking Running Dancing
- Yoga Jump rope Hula hoop Jumping jacks Push ups Walk the stairs
- Walk the dog Wash the car Cleaning Weight lifting Shoot baskets Mow the lawn
More information for parents about benefits of physical activity for adolescents:
“My Calm Place” card deck combines yoga, meditation, mindfulness and guided imagery activities to calm emotions and promote self-regulation in children.
Practice strategies from “Be Mindful” card deck:
1) Movement card: “Energize your Battery”
- To charge your battery,
- Picture a happy image.
- Touch one hand to the opposite knee.
- Release it, switch sides, and repeat
- 5-10 times.
- Feel your energy.
2) Meditation Card: “Go Deeper and Rest”
- There is a space between the inhale and exhale.
- Can you find this quiet place?
- Inhale to 4 counts through your nose, pause before you
- Exhale to 4.
- Find the space between the breaths and rest.
3) Movement: “HA Mountain”
- Inhale and raise your arms.
- Pull your arms down and exhale, saying “HA!”
- Repeat 5, 10 and 20 times.
- Stand still and tall like a mountain.
- Listen to the silence of your body.
Positive Coping Strategies/Fun Activities: Choose a few activities you would like to do this week...
- Listen to music mindfully
- Go for a walk, run or bike ride
- Lie down and look at the clouds, find different shapes
- Draw, Paint
- Play in instrument
- Spend some time outdoors, enjoy nature
- Spend time with a pet
- Play a game
- Write a story about a fun memory you have
- Send a card or letter to a friend or family member (through the mail)
- Practice a sport outside
- Make a meal for your family
- Practice breathing, relaxation techniques
- Listen to Guided Meditation
Virtual Wellness for All
Family friendly virtual activities - for example - soothing music, live animal cameras, self-care (grounding and breathing)
Virtual Stillness Space
Practice self-care through guided meditation, stretching and yoga, visual relaxation and other online activities.
Virtual Calming Room
Virtual activities such as journaling, movement and other calming resources.
Virtual Calming Corner
Virtual exercises, puzzles and games, coloring activities and more!