SIMPLE TECHNIQUES TO KEEP CHILDREN HAPPY AND CALM IN THE AGE OF ANXIETY
With recent data from the NSPCC’s Childline service showing that even children as young as 4 years old are displaying signs of panic attacks, anxiety and depression, it’s becoming even more important for today’s parents to equip themselves with ‘first aid’ skills that will support their child’s emotional wellbeing.
The world can feel like a scary place for young children as they encounter new experiences almost on a daily basis. A trip to the doctor or hairdresser, a taste of a strange new food, being left alone with Grandma or even an unexpected loud noise can all cause stress and anxiety.
Here are some simple things every parent can try:
From the age of two years, it’s best to forewarn your child of any upcoming tricky situations otherwise they might feel they’ve been tricked and their trust of you will start to erode. You can use dolls, teddy bears and story-telling to help explain diﬃcult situations. Take turns at playing ‘Doctors’ by giving a favourite teddy an injection or a dental examination. Older children might have a favourite TV character or super-hero and you could ask them to think about what they think this character would do if faced with the same challenging situation that they’re in at the moment.
WHAT TO SAY IN MOMENTS OF PANIC
Learning a few key phrases for moments when a child is anxious or has been startled by something such as a wasp, will help you to manage these situations more eﬀectively. It can be hard to come up with the right words just at the moment when a child is in a state of panic. Here are some examples of useful phrases:
- I’m going to help you through this.
- The worst is over and everything will start to get better from now on.
- It feels like something is wrong, but these feelings are harmless – you are absolutely fine.
- Breathe with me, let’s blow it out.
- Notice how you’re starting to feel better now.
- Walk with me over here and keep holding my hand, so you can start to feel better.
- Just because you’re scared doesn’t mean you are in danger.
Anxiety can lead to a shortness of breath and this leads to a pale complexion, sweaty hands and face and even giddiness or fainting. “Take a nice deep breath” is a traditional response but taking a deep inward breath is precisely what an anxious child doesn’t need to do. Anxious feelings can be caused by having too much air trapped in the lungs, which gives the sensation of not being able to breathe properly. The solution to feeling ‘short of breath’ is to blow some of that trapped air out.
Toys and games can help children to learn how to control their breathing in moments of panic and here are a few useful ways to introduce the concept of blowing out to them:
- bubble mixture through a wand;
- blowing bubbles in a drink through a straw;
- a hand-held windmill toy with sails;
- blow football;
- blowing a feather from one side of a table to the other
You can also ask your child to scrunch up their hand and simply imagine that they’re blowing up a balloon or paper bag – long, slow breathing out is what’s required.
Learning how to relax can be fun – at the end of a busy day, encourage your child to stretch and tense their muscles as this is a very eﬀective way of working stress out of the body. This kind of routine is ideal for winding down before bedtime. Work through each of the following steps for 30 seconds.
- March straight and upright around the room.
- Run on the spot.
- Pretend your arms are the branches of a tree by waving them above your head.
- Screw up your face to look like a scary monster.
- Stretch up to the sky and be as tall as possible.
- Roll up tightly to become as small as possible.
- Tightly squeeze your hands into a fist – and then release them again. Repeat.
Now, let’s calm down and relax:
- Pretend to be a big, heavy animal lumbering around the room very slowly.
- Pretend you’re a mouse, moving as quietly and as slowly as possible.
- Become a ‘sleeping lion’ by lying on the floor and keeping still and quiet for a couple of minutes.
Incorporating some of these simple strategies into your parenting will help soothe anxiety and allow your children to feel calmer and more at ease.
Alicia Eaton is a Children’s emotional wellbeing Specialist, and author of several books including First Aid of your Child’s Mind and Stop Bedwetting in Seven Days.
Alicia is a trained psychotherapist and clinical hypnotherapist. She has a successful practice in London’s Harley Street where she has been helping adults and children change unwanted habits and behaviours since 2004.
She is also trained in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and assisted Paul McKenna with his seminars for over seven years. Over the years, she has continued to add to her skills by training in mindfulness at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre and also as a practitioner of the latest psycho-sensory therapies such as Thought Field Therapy (TFT) and Havening. Originally a Montessori Teacher, Alicia ran her own school for five years. Alicia regularly speaks and runs workshops on a variety of topics, including parenting and emotional well-being.