When kids are anxious or stressed, these techniques can help them relax and regain their sense of control. Practice these strategies to help discover what works best for your child.
1. Take a few deep breaths.
When people are feeling anxious or tense, they naturally tend to take rapid, shallow breaths. The simple act of breathing slowly and deeply can reduce feelings of stress.
Have your child practice this move: Breathe in slowly through the nose. Hold for a few seconds. Then slowly exhale through the mouth. Repeat several times.
2. Relax from head to toe.
Take deep breathing to the next level. When you’re at home or someplace else where you and your child can relax, suggest that your child lie down and follow your movements.
Put one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Have your child do the same. Both of you close your eyes and relax your muscles. Tell your child to breathe slowly and deeply and imagine the tension escaping.
3. Take a mental vacation.
Help your child visualize a relaxing place, with closed eyes. It helps for your child to picture a favorite destination, like the beach.
Ask your child to think about the sounds and smells of this place. Then help your child imagine the sounds of the waves crashing, the scent of the salt in the air, or other sensory details related to this favorite spot.
When kids—and adults—feel that they’re under pressure, they tense up physically. Gripping a squeeze ball can help your child release that tension. So can squishing modeling clay or hugging a stuffed animal. These actions also encourage a shift in focus from whatever’s causing the anxiety to a new activity for your child.
Exercise can be a great way to channel nervous energy. Plus, it releases feel-good endorphins that boost your child’s mood. Suggest that your child hop up and down 10 times, do three laps around the yard or playground, or whatever works best wherever you happen to be at the time.
To help your child deal with anxiety when faced with a challenge, like an upcoming test, teach strategies for replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Brainstorm together to come up with empowering phrases or mantras your child can think or say. “I can do it” or “I am strong” are good choices.
Listening to music can defuse tension in a variety of ways. Your child can listen to music that leads to a spur-of-the-moment dance party or find some soothing, calming songs. It’s always good to have more than one option.
How you deal with stress will influence how your child learns to cope. So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, say something like, “I’ve got so much to do today. I don’t know how I’m going to get everything finished. I need to take a minute to do my jumping jacks. Then I’ll feel better.” Then ask your child to join you.