It happens to every child in one form or another – anxiety. As parents, we would like to shield our children from life’s anxious moments, but navigating anxiety is an essential life skill that will serve them in the years to come.
In the heat of the moment, try these simple phrases to help your children identify, accept, and work through their anxious moments.
1. “Can you draw it?”
Drawing, painting or doodling about an anxiety provides kids with an outlet for their feelings when they can’t use their words.
2. “I love you. You are safe.”
Being told that you will be kept safe by the person you love the most is a powerful affirmation. Remember, anxiety makes your children feel as if their minds and bodies are in danger. Repeating they are safe can soothe the nervous system.
3. “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.”
If you tell a child to take a deep breath in the middle of a panic attack, chances are you’ll hear, “I CAN’T!” Instead, make it a game. Pretend to blow up a balloon, making funny noises in the process. Taking three deep breaths and blowing them out will actually reverse the stress response in the body and may even get you a few giggles in the process.
4. “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.
Marathon runners use this trick all of the time to get past “the wall.”
5. “Why do you think that is?”
This is especially helpful for older kids who can better articulate the “Why” in what they are feeling.
6. “What will happen next?”
If your children are anxious about an event, help them think through the event and identify what will come after it. Anxiety causes myopic vision, which makes life after the event seem to disappear.
7. “We are an unstoppable team.”
Separation is a powerful anxiety trigger for young children. Reassure them that you will work together, even if they can’t see you.
8. Have a battle cry: “I am a warrior!”; “I am unstoppable!”; or “Look out World, here I come!”
There is a reason why movies show people yelling before they go into battle. The physical act of yelling replaces fear with endorphins. It can also be fun.
9. “If how you feel was a monster, what would it look like?”
Giving anxiety a characterization means you take a confusing feeling and make it concrete and palpable. Once kids have a worry character, they can talk to their worry.
10. “I can’t wait until _____.”
Excitement about a future moment is contagious.
11. “Let’s put your worry on the shelf while we _____ (listen to your favorite song, run around the block, read this story). Then we’ll pick it back up again.”
Those who are anxiety-prone often feel as though they have to carry their anxiety until whatever they are anxious about is over. This is especially difficult when your children are anxious about something they cannot change in the future. Setting it aside to do something fun can help put their worries into perspective.
12. “This feeling will go away. Let’s get comfortable until it does.”
The act of getting comfortable calms the mind as well as the body. Weightier blankets have even been shown to reduce anxiety by increasing mild physical stimuli.
13. “Let’s learn more about it.”
Let your children explore their fears by asking as many questions as they need. After all, knowledge is power.
14. “Let’s count _____.”
This distraction technique requires no advance preparation. Counting the number of people wearing boots, the number of watches, the number of kids, or the number of hats in the room requires observation and thought, both of which detract from the anxiety your child is feeling.