According to the National Institute of Mental Health, twenty-five percent of teens in our country, age 13 – 18, suffer from some type of anxiety disorder [link]. Learning and using strategies for addressing anxiety in children and teens can help.
We all feel nervous or anxious at times, and so do our children. When our kids feel worried or upset, here are a few ideas for all of us to remember to keep ourselves peaceful. If we practice these principles and teach them to our children, the probability of them being overly anxious as teens and adults will be lessened.
1. BREATHE DEEPLY. Many times we can calm ourselves using breathing exercises. Breathe from your diaphragm and fill your lungs with air. Inhale counting to ten and then exhale counting to ten. When you stop your thought processes and focus on counting and breathing, you are essentially taking a time out from your anxiety.
2. DAYDREAM. Create a video clip of a place you enjoy—like swimming in the ocean or hiking in the mountains. Use not only your visual sense, but also include sound, feeling, taste, touch and smell to your image. Our thinking creates our feelings. So if we are anxious, we are thinking thoughts that cause anxiety. If we change our thinking, we will change our feelings. The daydream video can pull us out of our anxiety. Kids will enjoy creating videos. Make an imaginary one (a day dream) or use the new computer apps to develop an electronic one.
3. SHOW GRATITUDE. Reflect on things you are thankful for. I found in my practice as a therapist that gratitude was one of the most effective methods of reducing depression and anxiety. When we start to count our blessings, we realize that life isn’t as difficult as we think. Create a gratitude game with your children. Draw pictures of things you are thankful for and put them on the fridge so you can see them often.
4. EXERCISE. Play a game of ball. Large muscle activity for adults and children is a great way to help us release our feelings. Exercise reduces tension and takes our minds off our problems. There is an extra benefit of playing with our children: They love it, and so do we. During these activities, we are building stronger relationships with those we love.
5. SOOTHE. Rub a small square of soft cloth. This substitute soother can be anything you or your child chooses—cloth, smooth rock, bracelet, ribbon. Several of my young clients kept a pet rock in their pockets to rub when they needed to relax. Our grandson had a two-inch square soft tricot cloth he kept in his pocket to feel when he felt anxious.
6. DOODLE, DRAW or WRITE. This is a great technique for young and old to release feelings in any way they choose. Some like to make abstract doodles. Others like to draw images of their frustration. Journaling is an age-old art than can benefit all those wishing to avail themselves of it. If I journal my problem and brain storm solutions on paper, I always come up with a good resolution. Writing helps me focus my thinking and find the best answer for me.
7. EXERCISE HUMOR. Find something to laugh about. Laughter is one of the greatest gifts we can include in our lives. Kids are the best at acting silly and laughing. Enjoy your children by giggling together.
These are only a few ideas that will help all of us reduce the anxiety in our lives. If a child is showing extreme signs of tension—such as pulling out their eyebrows, twisting their hair until they create a bald spot, excessive hand washing or the like, be sure to visit your primary care physician to explore all possible solutions. ###
Christy Monson has an M.S. in Counseling Psychology and Marriage & Family Therapy from University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and established a successful counseling practice in Las Vegas, Nevada. Check out her informative website [link].