How can I help my child deal with anxiety?
One of the most common reasons children come to my psychology practice is due to anxiety. Sometimes, this is following a significant life event, such as divorce or the death of a close relative; more often, it is school-related anxiety. This anxiety can take many forms, e.g. tummy pains, headaches, excessive worrying, tearfulness or not wanting to go to school. While some children will always be more prone to anxiety than others, there are many practical steps parents can take to help their child cope with the normal stresses and strains of life.
Why teach calm breathing?
The most important first step in helping your child cope with anxiety is to teach calm breathing. When we feel anxious, we tend to take fast, shallow breaths which end up making you feel more anxious. Calm breathing helps to lower anxiety and help the child feel more in control.
How to teach calm breathing?
Calm breathing involves taking deep breaths in through the nose and long slow breaths out through the mouth. In my therapy sessions, I teach children to “smell the flower, blow out the candle”. Sometimes, I use bubble blowing to teach the child how to breathe out slowly. This works particularly well for younger children as it introduces an element of fun to the activity, something that is often in short supply when a child is feeling anxious. Another great one with an element of fun is to lie down on the floor with one hand on your chest and a small teddy on your belly. The goal is to have the teddy rise and fall while keeping your chest in the same place. I have used this with great success when children are reluctant to try traditional belly breaths.
Ideally, your child will practice this every day so that the next time anxiety strikes, taking deep breaths has become second nature, reducing anxiety immediately.