By Renee Jain
It happens to every child in one form or another – anxiety. As parents, we would like to shield our children from life’s anxious moments, but navigating anxiety is an essential life skill that will serve them in the years to come. In the heat of the moment, try these simple phrases to help your children identify, accept, and work through their anxious moments.
1. “Can you draw it?”
Drawing, painting or doodling about anxiety provides kids with an outlet for their feelings when they can’t use their words.
2. “I love you. You are safe.”
Being told that you will be kept safe by the person you love the most is a powerful affirmation. Remember, anxiety makes your children feel as if their minds and bodies are in danger. Repeating they are safe can soothe the nervous system.
3. “I will say something and I want you to say it exactly as I do: ‘I can do this.’” Do this 10 times at variable volume.
Marathon runners use this trick all of the time to get past “the wall.”
4. “What will happen next?”
If your children are anxious about an event, help them think through the event and identify what will come after it. Anxiety causes myopic vision, which makes life after the event seems to disappear.
5. Have a battle cry: “I am a warrior!”; “I am unstoppable!”; or “Look out World, here I come!”
There is a reason why movies show people yelling before they go into battle. The physical act of yelling replaces fear with endorphins. It can also be fun.
6. “If how you feel was a monster, what would it look like?”
Giving anxiety a characterization means you take a confusing feeling and make it concrete and palpable. Once kids have a worry character, they can talk to their worry.
7. “Let’s put your worry on the shelf while we _____ (listen to your favorite song, run around the block, read this story). Then we’ll pick it back up again.”
Those who are anxiety-prone often feel as though they have to carry their anxiety until whatever they are anxious about is over. This is especially difficult when your children are anxious about something they cannot change in the future. Setting it aside to do something fun can help put their worries into perspective.
8. “This feeling will pass. Let’s get comfortable until it does.”
The act of getting comfortable calms the mind as well as the body. Weightier blankets have even been shown to reduce anxiety by increasing mild physical stimuli.
9. “I get scared/nervous/anxious sometimes too. It’s no fun.”
Empathy wins in many, many situations. It may even strike up a conversation with your older child about how you overcame anxiety.
10. “Let’s pull out our calm-down checklist.”
Anxiety can hijack the logical brain; carry a checklist with coping skills your child has practiced. When the need presents itself, operate off of this checklist.
11. “Tell me the worst thing that could possibly happen.”
Once you’ve imagined the worst possible outcome of the worry, talk about the likelihood of that worst possible situation happening. Next, ask your child about the best possible outcome. Finally, ask them about the most likely outcome. The goal of this exercise is to help a child think more accurately during their anxious experience.
12. “Let’s find some evidence.”
Collecting evidence to support or refute your child’s reasons for anxiety helps your children see if their worries are based on fact.
13. “What is the first piece we need to worry about?”
Anxiety often makes mountains out of molehills. One of the most important strategies for overcoming anxiety is to break the mountain back down into manageable chunks. In doing this, we realize the entire experience isn’t causing anxiety, just one or two parts.
14. “Remember when…”
Competence breeds confidence. Confidence quells anxiety. Helping your children recall a time when they overcame anxiety gives them feelings of competence and thereby confidence in their abilities.
15. “I’m taking a deep breath.”
Model a calming strategy and encourage your child to mirror you. If your children allow you, hold them to your chest so they can feel your rhythmic breathing and regulate theirs.
16. “This feeling will pass.”
Often, children will feel like their anxiety is never-ending. Instead of shutting down, avoiding, or squashing the worry, remind them that relief is on the way.
17. “Help me move this wall.”
Hard work, like pushing on a wall, relieves tension and emotions. Resistance bands also work.
18. “Let’s write a new story.”
Your children have written a story in their mind about how the future is going to turn out. This future makes them feel anxious. Accept their story and then ask them to come up with a few more plot lines where the story’s ending is different.
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