2. “I know this is hard.”
Worry is hard, so tell your child that you understand. By mirroring their feelings, they’ll be more likely to connect with you and open up. You’re also validating them, and telling them it’s ok to feel what they’re feeling.
“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” – Henry Ford
3. “Would you like a hug?”
Hugs have many benefits! Physical contact can stimulate the release of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, and decrease the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Your child will feel more relaxed and more able to think more rationally about their situation.
4. “Take a deep breath.”
Teaching your kids to breathe during a stressful situation is one of the most useful things you can do. Suggest they put their left hand on their tummy and their right hand over their heart, then breathe in and out slowly, noticing their belly expand and their chest rise and fall with each breath. It will ground them and change their physiological state. It’s a skill they can use anywhere from in the classroom before a test, or another other time anxiety creeps upon them.
5. “Go to your happy place.”
When your child is less stressed, ask them about a place that makes them feel good – calm, confident, and happy. It could be a beach, cottage, or cozy bedroom. Get them to describe it in perfect detail, including what it looks like, sounds like, smells like, and feels like to them. Then, when they become anxious, suggest they transport themselves to that happy place and let the power of visualization transform them.
“Don’t believe every worried thought you have. Worried thoughts are notoriously inaccurate.” – Renee Jain
6. “Let’s sing!”
Studies show that singing reduces stress and makes you happier. So, start up the chorus to your child’s favourite song, or get them up to dance to it. In less than a minute, the endorphins will kick in, and you’ll have interrupted the stress response long enough for the rational brain to kick in. As a plus, you will have shared a sweet bonding moment!
7. “Tell me more.”
To turn down your child’s emotional brain, get them talking about what’s stressing them out. If you ask questions, stick to opened ones, but simply allowing them the space to share can often do the trick. You will be showing them how much you’re interested in their experience and engaging their rational brain at the same time – which will help them to reframe the entire anxiety-provoking situation.
Anxiety in children
8. “What’s your heart telling you? What’s your brain telling you?”
These questions encourage your child to reflect on their emotions and to collect evidence about the situation. Their heart might be telling them that they are scared of failing the test, but their brain might be telling them that they’ve studied. Teach them that both can be true, and that’s ok and that they can challenge themselves as to which will win out: fear or facts. This is the essence of self-talk.
9. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
Asking, “What’s the worst that could happen?” helps kids put worries into perspective, and make big problems seem much smaller. The worst that could happen might be not making the soccer team. How bad would that be? What could your child do if that happens? What could they learn from that experience? Your child will see that they have the ability to overcome challenges and make the best of an undesirable situation.
10. “What would ______ (your hero) do in this situation?”
Everybody has someone they look up to – whether that’s a mentor or superhero. Ask your child how Spider-Man or Wonder Woman would handle their situation or real-life idols like Prince Harry or Taylor Swift. Then ask them how they can do the same.