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8 Ways to Support Your Anxious Child and Build Connection in Your Family

Anxiety is rife in our youth and children. 12-18-year-olds are already an anxious age bracket. But children under twelve are also struggling with anxiety. COVID exasperated an already anxious group, whether it was from social anxiety, obsession with being germ-free, or any other underlying/existing concern.

As a parent and a Creative Therapist, I’ve put together my 8 go-to ideas to help your child manage their anxiety. I hope these can help you find calm and harmony in your household. Two techniques I’ve included are the 333 Rule and the 54321 Activity. Below provides the start of a ‘toolbox’ you can go to with your children when anxiety strikes. Let’s find ways to manage and abolish it together.

Parents Guide Illawarra is here to make your parenting journey a little easier – visit our website here 🙂

1. Nature calms the brain

8 ways to support your anxious child

Bush walking, planting and tending to a garden, sitting in the sun, or going to the beach. Being in nature is healing. It grounds our bodies and refreshes our soul. Being in nature can be as simple as going for a walk on grass with bare feet. It can be going for a walk and collecting leaves to use as inspiration for art.

Nature immersion can be educational, learning how leaves work, why they fall in autumn? It’s about being mindful, being in nature, and taking notice of what you are seeing and experiencing with the senses.

Encourage your child to sit in the sun. Prompt them to feel the warmth on their skin. This also helps with soaking up vitamin D, which helps our hormones and nervous system.

Nature immersion can be as simple as giving your child a watering can or hose. Ask them to water the garden but let them play in the water and get wet!

We are lucky to live in the Illawarra where nature is all around us. Click here for local inspiration for where to take the kids in Wollongong and the Illawarra.

2. Music helps relieve anxiety

8 ways to support your anxious child

Sound is powerful, it can overwhelm, and it can heal. But music can heal us.

Find music that resonates with your child. Even if your child isn’t interested in or able to play an instrument, putting music on is healing in itself. It takes us out of our own thoughts or helps us feel less alone. It impacts our mood.

If possible, find an instrument your child enjoys learning to play. Like styles of music, instruments resonate with each person in different ways.

Playing an instrument helps brain development. It is also a form of meditation. It keeps hands and thoughts busy, concentrating on something outside our brain. It incorporates all the senses.

Singing or humming are soothing to our nervous system too. They stimulate our vagus nerve. This is the biggest nerve in our parasympathetic nervous system. It allows our body to enter into a relaxed ‘rest and digest’ state. My youngest son used to hum himself to sleep. Now I realise he was naturally stimulating his parasympathetic nervous system. It is amazing to me, that it was something he instinctively knew to do, without being taught.

3. Movement releases energy and tension

8 ways to support your anxious child

Dance, yoga, exercise, and movement therapy. Finding the exercise that you enjoy doing is important so it doesn’t feel like a chore. The same is true for children.

Some people like to run, others enjoy swimming, soccer, or dancing. Whatever it is, finding a type of exercise your child enjoys could become a lifelong love. It could also be a lifelong way to cope with anxiety, or other common mental health issues.

Yoga is a great exercise for anxiety. It incorporates deep breathing, and slow stretching. It also requires an amount of concentration and keeps negative thoughts at bay.

For ideas on local, scenic bike rides you can enjoy with your kids, click here

4. Art and writing to release inner thoughts

8 ways to support your anxious child

It doesn’t matter if you think (or have been told) you aren’t creative, that usually means you haven’t found your niche. Everyone has the ability to be creative – we are creative beings.

There are many creative options to explore. A few include: Ceramics; hands in clay creating. Using paint to create an artwork. Drawing and focusing on detail. Photography requires attention for detail too, capturing light and beauty. It also helps us see the beauty in the world around us.

Writing is another form of self-expression that can be helpful. Get your child to write their thoughts or worries down. Whether it’s rambling on a page, or angry words, or a bad dream. Get them to write it down to get it out of their head. Then help them burn it (in a fire pit or somewhere safe) to get rid of it, or shred it, or cut it into tiny pieces.

This shows your child that getting the thoughts out of their heads releases them from the worry. It also teaches them that thoughts and worries have no power over them.

5. Grounding techniques to bring your child into the moment.

8 ways to support your anxious child

Sleep has a big impact on stress and anxiety. Before bed my children now do grounding exercises. It helps them get their brains and bodies ready for sleep. It calms their rushing minds from a day of activities and busyness.

The grounding exercise I have taught my children is the 54321 Technique. The child looks around them and names, either out loud or in their heads, five things they can see. Four things they can touch. Three things they can hear. Two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste. I get my children to list one thing they like about themselves as well.

Another version of this is the 333 Exercise. The child lists three things they can see, three things they can hear, and they move three body parts.

Both of these exercises, bring your brain back into the moment, and helps you calm your nervous system. They are easy to remember because it uses the five senses. Children can do this at school or anywhere, because they can subtly go through the list in their heads.

6. Breathing techniques and meditation to calm the brain

8 ways to support your anxious child

Learning how to breathe. Sounds simple right? But how many of us are rushing through life, breathing shallow breaths only. How many of our children are doing the same? I didn’t realise I needed to re-learn how to breathe, but when I did, it changed my life. It has also helped my children.

There are two breathing exercises I use with my children. The first is to help calm them when they are struggling with anxiety. They breathe in to the count of four, and breathe out to the count of four. I get my children to do this ten times, and I guide them through it. I often find them doing this themselves at bedtime after their grounding exercise.

The other one I’ve been teaching my children is breathing in for a count of two. Then breathing out to the count of four. This gets them ready for sleep, so it is good for them to do while lying in bed with their eyes closed. I get them to do this ten times, or until they’re asleep.

Ideally, they should breathe in through their nose, and out through their mouth. But the win here is that they are breathing slowly and mindfully.

7. Create a calm corner

8 ways to support your anxious child

Set up a space of calm that anyone can use when they need some self-nurturing, or quiet. Include beanbags full of memory foam, or chair hammocks for a sense of weightlessness. Put posters with breathing and grounding exercises stuck on the wall. Set up a diffuser with some calming fragrances. Have a shelf with books, and sensory toys. Include noise cancelling headphones, fidgets, heat packs, eye masks for making it dark. Decide yourself if you want this to be a screen free area or not, that’s up to you.

8. Time to re-connect together

8 ways to support your anxious child

As a parent, it is our role to make sure we are connecting with our children. It is not only important for their mental health, but a connected family is a happier family. When my family are disconnected, that’s when there’s arguments and tension. It’s also when there’s the most aggression and push back from the kids about things the adults expect of them. When my eldest gets jealous of the youngest it is usually when I haven’t spent enough time connecting with her.

Consented/wanted touch supercharges connection. Holding hands, rubbing backs, making eye contact, saying I love you. These build connection within a family. In a world where people feel more isolated, and unable to connect with others, these moments show your children how loved and valued they are.

Life is busy – both parents are typically working, running kids to activities, household chores. There is no doubt that time for connection becomes hard to find. There is so much rushing, and we do it because we love our kids, and want them to have everything. But what they need is connection, our uninterrupted time, our undivided attention.

For Illawarra and South Coast NSW family day trip inspiration – click here

Bridge building for connection

8 ways to support your anxious child

Dr. Russell Kennedy talks about building a bridge to the next connection. When you drop your child off to school, build a bridge of connection with them. This means, reminding them of what you will do together when you see them after school. It might be “see you after school, we can have a milkshake together on the way home”. Make it something your child likes doing. Something so they know, at the end of the long separation from you for the day, they will be able to connect with you again. This creates ‘connection resonance’. It is reminding them through their day of their connection with you, and that they are loved. It also helps them be brave if something happens at school, that at home they are safe and loved. They can feel unconditionally loved and accepted.

We have days where we throw out our plans for the day and have a day at home. This might be watching movies, playing board games, or eating yummy food. Snuggling under a blanket together and being in the moment together. I need this as much as my children do. It’s time to connect, to really see each other, and understand our children as they are. It says nothing matters more than this relationship right now. And it’s something you will both remember forever.

Every parent does the best they can for their child. We hope this article has provided some helpful tools for you try in helping your child with their anxiety in them becoming the best version of themselves.

About the Author: Lisa Hagan
Lisa grew up in Thirroul and is a mum of four children. A student to life, Lisa loves learning and searching for the most fun things to do with her kids. She loves exploring the Illawarra and surrounds. Searching for fun and educational activities are her favourites for her kids whom she homeschools. 

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