The Expert Parent's Guide to Childhood Anxiety

Recommended by experts: techniques to help children with anxiety

Many of countries across the world are beginning to bring mental health education to the forefront of their personal, social and health education curriculums, recognising the resounding effect it can have on the lives of young people. However, how can you be sure that your child is getting the support they need? 

As a parent, you have a responsibility to stay on top of your child's mental health and wellbeing education. With the right knowledge, you can be equipped at all times to teach your children techniques to use to cope with worries, lower stress and maintain a mindful outlook to prevent the impact worries have on their overall way of life. 

Below are our top 4 ways to help children regain control of their own thoughts and overcome fears. We also introduce Mindfulness, an invaluable anxiety coping strategy that has become increasingly indispensable to people young and old worldwide in recent years.  

1. The Worry Box

Try turning an old tissue box into a worry box. You could spend time decorating this together, remembering to remind your child that the worries are nothing to be ashamed of. Get your child to write down or draw their worries throughout the day and pop them in the box. 

2. Thought Clouds

If you've ever spent any time lying on the grass watching the clouds go by, I'm sure you'll agree it's pretty relaxing!

A good way to help let unhelpful thoughts (worries) pass through the brain without your child panicking, or seeking reassurance is to literally help them see the thoughts as words they can simply let go of and drift away into their mind. 

Using the worry box created earlier, at the end of the week sit down with your child to put the worries into thought clouds. If there are any worries or thoughts that are particularly bothersome for your child, ask them to write them on a cloud. 

With each worry cloud, ask your child to imagine it drifting through their head and passing out of the other side, there's no need to focus on it, just let it drift. Let them know that if the thought comes back, that's okay - clouds come and go all the time! This will help your child to realise that they can just let worries and thoughts pass over their mind without having to even focus on it.

3. Papier Mache Thoughts

Why not take this one step further and collect the thought cloud papers and, combining them with newspaper, turn them into papier mache objects just to show that even though the worry words are still there, they've become something beautiful. This monthly project has many amazing benefits, including showing your child that worry thoughts are nothing to be ashamed of.


4. Mindfulness Exercises for Kids to Use at Home and School

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present, whilst calmly acknowledging and accepting thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.

There are many ways you can incorporate Mindfulness into your daily routine and that of your child. Remember that this won't work simply telling your child to be "mindful," just as telling yourself to be "present" is a pretty ineffective way of focusing on the present. 

Instead, help your child discover ways they can reconnect with the sensations the happen in and outside the body. 

The squeezy body game

You know you've done a good job if you can teach mindfulness activities that relieve stress at home and at school. Children love the squeezy body game, which makes it an incredibly effective stress relief activity. 

When your child is sat comfortably, tell them to begin by taking 4 deep breaths. Breathing in until they can't hold any more air, holding this breath for 4 seconds, and breathing out for 5 seconds. After this, beginning at their toes, have them squeeze (tense) every muscle from their toes to their arms. Holding each squeeze for 3 seconds, then relaxing.

Whilst doing so, have them think about how their body feels: 

How do your toes feel before you squeeze them?

How do your toes feel whilst you're squeezing them?

What do your feet feel like once you've relaxed your toes?

If your child is sat in class and has some spare time during registration perhaps, this is a good stress-reducing technique they can practice on their own in school, and no one will even notice. 

If it's bedtime, the same mindfulness technique can be performed laying down with your eyes closed. As well as helping the mind regain focus on the present, and less on thoughts and worries circulating around the mind, the technique can help children and adults alike get to sleep far easier if they're under a significant amount of stress. 


The playtime safari

Children's inquisitive minds are always yearning to be stimulated. If you leave a child to their own vices, they'll probably just pick up the nearest mobile phone or tablet. If you have a child who experiences anxiety, it's a great idea to offer alternatives to technology to give children an opportunity to be mindful whilst having fun.

The playtime safari is ideal if you're looking for an outdoor activity children can do at home and at playtime at school.

There are a few rules to note before setting out on your playtime safari:

Things to turn down:

- Stay really quiet

- Move slowly

- Let other thoughts and worries pass through the head like the clouds

Things to turn up:

- Sense of sight

- Sense of touch 

- Sense of sound

The aim is to find as many beautiful objects as possible. Of course, you can interchange the "beautiful" adjective here. You could try setting the aim to find as many green objects, as many objects above their heads, rough, soft objects (you get the idea.)

With every object they come across, ask them to think about how it looks, the colour of the object, the smell and how it feels. When they find any insects or animals, encourage your child to observe the animal for as long as they want, thinking about how it looks, the way it moves along the ground and how many colours there are on the insect. 

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Hopefully you've found something here that will help your child cope better with their worries, lower stress, and reduce feelings of guilt. If you think you're child is still struggling, parents and carers can get help and advice around children's mental health from Young Minds' free parent helpline on 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am-4pm).

Up next: Opening up: How to help your child confide in you

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