I hope you find today’s guest post from Katherine Firestone of the Fireborn Institute to be as helpful as I did! Carry on, fellow parents of anxious children!
School is hard enough without the added burden of anxiety. When you’re anxious, your IQ drops – you are incapable of thinking at your highest level. For example, if you are stressed out because one minute ago Sam said he was not going to be friends with you anymore, would you be able to concentrate on math? Or what happens when you are in the middle of a test and half the class has already turned their test in and you are on the first page of a three page test? It is difficult to stay focused and to avoid thinking, “What is wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? I am going to fail this test…”
Anxiety and stress can come from lots of places: relationships, uncertainty, high stakes (or at least the perception of them), transitions, and perfectionism, to name a few.
So what can parents do help their children soothe their anxiety so they can be high achieving, popular, moral, and happy? Here are a few tips:
- Avoid saying “Calm down.” Instead, validate feelings.
Usually when someone says “Calm down” it is with the best intentions and is sincere advice. However, the result is typically the exact opposite. Why does this happen? Because when you tell someone to calm down, you are not acknowledging their feelings as valid. So instead of saying “Calm down”, verbally recognize why your child might be so upset about losing her pretty pony that she is throwing a temper tantrum.
Things to say instead of “Calm down”:
- I’m so sorry you are feeling so stressed.
- What can I do to help?
- Tell me about how you are feeling.
- What do you need from me?
2. Teach your children to calm themselves down.
Start working on daily self-calming practice when your child isn’t stressed to make calming exercises a habit. When he is stressed, this practice will allow him to figure out how to de-stress on his own. Some good ideas for self-calming practice are:
- Belly breaths (for younger kids, put a stuffed animal on their stomach as they lie down and they can watch it go up and down to help them focus on breathing).
- A Relaxation Corner (perhaps every day after school, you and your child snuggle up on the couch and relax by talking or reading a book to reset after a long school day).
- Exercise (When we work out, we use up our anxious energy).
- Name emotions and their intensity level (Have your child name his feeling. Labeling feelings robs them of some of their power).
3. Point Out Your Child’s Stress Signs
Before a meltdown happens, there are signals, like clenched fists, headaches, butterflies in your stomach. If you notice your child’s fists are clenched, gently point it out, “I see your fists are clenched. Are you feeling a little anxious?” Talk to your child about clues your body can give you to show that you are feeling stressed to help her start to recognize those clues.
4. Release Emotions
Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg suggests releasing emotions by “Blanking it out”: dance it out, cry it out, laugh it out, draw it out, rap it out, write it out, sing it out, drum it out – the possibilities go on. Use that abundance of energy to do something productive. Once you are able to release your emotions, you can move on because you start to deal with your feelings.
It’s important if we want to help our anxious kids calm their anxiety for us to be calm as well. If we show that we can be calm when life seems overwhelming, they will learn to be calm as well. We also need to practice daily self-calming rituals and accept our work when it isn’t perfect. Be the calm, happy person you want your child to be.
Borba, M. (2016). UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. New York, NY: Touchstone.
Ginsburg, K. (2015). Building resilience: Preparing children and adolescents to THRIVE. The Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.
Minahan, J. (2015). Between a Rock and a Calm Place. The Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.