10 Tips for Calming Anxious Children

As the carefree days of summer wind down and September sneaks in, schools around the country are back in session. For residents of Punta Gorda, Florida, and the nearby communities, children have been back in class for at least a month already.

Many children experience anxiety about beginning a new school year, meeting new people, or staying at home with a babysitter, so Dr. Laura Tait, an experienced psychiatrist (and mom), along with her compassionate mental health care team at Pacifica Care of Suncoast in Punta Gorda, offer 10 tips for calming anxious children. Try these techniques so you and your child can have a good school year ahead.

1. Acknowledge your child’s feelings

Even if their fears seem unreasonable (like the likelihood of the school bus bursting into flames en route to school), acknowledge them anyway. Instead of saying, “Don’t worry. That’s never going to happen!”, say something to let your child know you understand their fear. You might try, “I understand that’s a scary thing for you. Can you tell me more about it?” or “Talk to me about what you’re thinking. How can I help?”

Anxiety is a very real feeling for your child, so anything you can do to support them in their worries is a good way to let them know you’re there to help; they’re not alone.

2. Remind them to breathe

Encouraging your child to take a few deep breaths, like they’re going to smell a flower or blow out birthday candles, goes a long way in helping them calm their thoughts. When you relax your body, it lowers stress levels that cause anxiety. Practice with your child so they know how to take deep breaths when they feel scared or anxious and you’re not there with them.

3. Teach them to visualize their happy place

When your child feels anxious at school or in a new situation, help them learn to visualize being in a place where they feel calm and confident. Maybe it’s at the beach or in their bedroom inside a cozy fort they built. Help them see this place in their minds so they can feel calmer in a challenging situation.

4. Work through their ‘what ifs’

If your child’s anxiety causes them to resort to “what ifs,” instead of telling them they have nothing to worry about, let them work through the scenario instead. It can be very empowering, for example, to allow your child to solve a “what if” situation such as, “What if the bus breaks down on the way to school?”

You can say, “Let’s figure that out. What would you do if that happens?” Helping your child work through a scenario in which they’re able to reason things out (i.e., they would wait for another bus to arrive; they would follow instructions from the bus driver, etc.) can help them rationalize their fears and realize they have a solution should one of these fears come true.

5. Practice tackling fears

If your child fears being left alone with a babysitter, take small steps to build their confidence. Invite your babysitter over for a few hours while you’re at home, too, so your child gets used to the new experience. Once they feel better about being with the babysitter, take the next step by going out for a walk or taking a short trip to the store.

Progress a little at a time until your child overcomes the fear that you won’t return. Practicing a scenario that makes your child feel anxious helps them overcome their fear and learn to trust you and the situation.

6. Verbalize the size of the worry

Putting their anxieties into words can help you and your child create an action plan to overcome it. Ask, “How big is your worry about giving a presentation in science?” or “How big is your worry about your history test?”

Helping them identify the size of their worries provides valuable information to you, as a parent, so you can potentially break it down into more manageable pieces. For example, you can say, “Let’s go through your science project one step at a time.” This can help them take positive steps toward facing their anxiety head on.

7. Create phrases to cope with an anxiety

If you have a younger child with anxiety, you can call it the “worry bug” and create phrases for them to say when they feel the worry bug around them. Tell the worry bug to go away, or say, “I don’t have to listen to you!” when your child feels anxious about a situation. Then, help them remember to take a deep breath and move forward calmly and more empowered over their fear.

8. Rewrite the ending

Sometimes, a child’s anxiety is rooted in a past experience with a negative outcome. Help your child see different options by creating new endings to the same scenario. For example, if your child has anxiety about their turn at bat during a youth league game because they frequently strike out, rewrite the ending. Let your child talk about hitting the ball and getting to second base, or hitting the ball over the fence for a home run.

9. Give your child a hug

Sometimes an anxious child needs to be hugged and soothed so they know they’re safe, regardless of their fearful feelings.

10. Don’t react with anger

When your first-grader protests about getting on the school bus for the 27th time, it’s hard not to get frustrated and angry and force them to get on the bus with threats of punishment. Their anxieties are real, and working through them is beneficial to both of you in the long run. Teaching constructive coping skills is a better way to deal with anxiety than getting angry.

Remember, you’re not alone. It’s common for kids to experience anxieties from time to time, but if it’s a daily struggle with your child, Dr. Tait and the team at Pacifica Care of Suncoast can help. Call the office to schedule an appointment or use the convenient online booking tool to get professional support.

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