With the start of school, I’ve noticed an increase in parents looking for support in parenting their anxious children and bringing their children in to see me for counseling. There are stressors throughout the year but the transition of back to school can be one that elevates the anxiety level beyond the capacity of their coping skills. Parents may notice school refusal, frequent crying spells, irritability, angry outbursts, a lowered frustration tolerance, or an increase in unhealthy self soothing activities such as nail biting. As parents, we don’t always know how to teach our children the skills they need to process their fears and worries and not become paralyzed by them. Of course, I would absolutely recommend reaching out to a counselor when you notice that the anxiety is persistent and/or having a negative impact on their daily life but I also want to point you to some resources that all of our children could benefit from in managing their anxiety. These are tools that I often recommend to the parents that I work with and resources that I have found useful in supporting my own two children. I hope you find these resources enlightening and powerful for your children and in your parenting. This is a list of a few of my favorite resources but there are hundreds more books and practical tools out there and I hope this only encourages you to continue your research.
- The number one book that I recommend to parents is called “Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous & Independent Children” by Reid Wilson and Lynn Lyons, LICSW. I’ve had the privilege of attending multiple training sessions by Lynn Lyons and it has changed the way that I parent and the way that I think about anxiety. As most parents know, our own anxiety is quite contagious to our children but we aren’t always aware that some of the ways we are trying to help our children may end up actually making the anxiety stronger. In this book, you’ll learn how to give yourself and your children the tools to feel more empowered and strengthened against worry.
- Reid Wilson and Lynn Lyons went on to write a companion book titled “Playing with Anxiety: Casey’s Guide for Teens and Kids”. This book is written for older kids and teenagers from the perspective of a fourteen year old who has struggled with her own anxiety. Your children will find her relatable and funny and in the process they will learn how to start taking charge of their own emotions and fears.
- Your preschool through elementary age child will love the Cosmic Kids Yoga channel on YouTube. We discovered this several years ago when Jaime had just started out with a few yoga stories. Yoga has proven benefits for reducing anxiety and not just in the midst of the practice session. With regular practice, our brains creates new peaceful pathways that allow us to react differently to the stressful situations that arise in our daily lives. A good yoga teacher will help you understand the principles of yoga that include breath work, mindfulness and positive thought and this will carry over to your day to day routine. These are important skills for our children to learn. Check out Jaime’s yoga stories (everything from Frozen to Star Wars), her Peace Out guided meditation videos, and Zen Den mindfulness series. Make it a part of your regular routine.
- For teens who are struggling with anxiety, have them add a mindfulness and meditation app to their phone. Headspace and Calm are well known but are subscription based. Here are a few other programs worth looking into: Smiling Mind offers programs for children as young as 3 all the way through adulthood. Relax Melodies will help your children relax their racing thoughts before bed with a soothing mix of music and nature sounds. Stop, Breathe, and Think has over 55 meditations to choose from to fit whatever your need is at the moment. Finally, InsightTimer boasts the largest library of free guided meditations on earth. Join a meditation discussion group, choose from programs, classes, music, and meditation or just start a timer with a bell sound to start and end your practice.
- When kids are overwhelmed with their anxiety, it may be difficult for them to enter a state of meditation, even with a guided program. In these cases, it may be helpful to incorporate some movement to allow some space for the anxious energy. You can teach your children how to take a meditative walk. Set an easy, slower pace, and help your child focus on noticing what their 5 senses are taking in. This will help to ground them to the present, rather than in the past or future where their anxious thoughts lie. At first, your child may have difficulty noticing what is going on around them and that’s OK. Acknowledge it and empathize with them. You might need to do the work for them at first. Ask them if they see that red truck up ahead, the sound of the leaves rustling underfoot, the smell of the neighbors cooking out, or have them take their shoes off and feel the grass beneath their feet. As they start to calm down, ask them to tell you when they notice something they hadn’t seen, heard, smelled, or felt before. Ask about each sense individually, giving them a chance to notice something. Once they are in a much calmer place, you can point out that they were able to control their mind through this mindfulness practice. Praise them for being able to find a place of peace.
- Bedtime is a prime time for anxious thoughts to come out of hiding. The distractions of the day can keep the worries at a manageable level but come nighttime and the quiet of laying in bed and you have a recipe for tears and sleepless nights. There are several tips that I would recommend for calming the nighttime fears. A sound machine can be helpful but I find many kids need something to direct their thoughts and relax their body. The meditation apps I mentioned have sleep related meditations and stories for kids and adults. For younger kids, I would also try out the Dinosnores Sleepy Stories series of recordings. I’ve also found it helpful to incorporate aromatherapy into the nighttime routine, diffusing lavender essential oil or another calming oil or blend. Lastly, make sure to limit your children’s and teen’s use of cell phones and other screens an hour or two before bed. The blue light that is emitted tricks the brain into thinking it’s still daytime and this can upset sleep rhythms. Just the thought of not getting enough sleep or having to lay awake in a dark room longer may be enough to start those anxious thoughts churning.
I’d love to hear what resources you’ve found helpful and when you’ve tried out some of the tips and resources above. Let me know in the comments what you think!