By Judith E. Lipson, M.A., LPC
Does your child experience anxiety? It has become more common and at younger ages too. Anxiety shows itself in many ways. Some children become quiet and introverted. Others act angry. They may lose focus, display inattention or fidget –resembling ADHD. Many have headaches, stomach upset, etc. In school, some children experience test anxiety, difficulty with oral presentations, reluctance to attend school or they skip classes.
There are various possible causes for anxiety. It may be the result of challenges that your child has experienced. Some families recognize that anxiety seems to run in their family. Many people who are prone to feelings of anxiety are highly sensitive in all five senses. (Read Sensitive Children)
There are several techniques that you can teach your child to reduce stress and anxiety:
Breathe – When you ask a person to be the observer of their breath, the mind calms. Say to your child:
Take a slow, gentle breath in; as you do, watch how your chest and abdomen (tummy) move out; as you exhale (breathe out), see how your chest and abdomen move back inward once again. Take a few more breaths, just watching the movement.
Relaxation – It is also important to relax the physical body. When the body is tense, the shoulders rise up and the chest can’t breathe as fully; so you breathe faster. The mind interprets this as anxiety, making an already anxious situation worse. Say this to your child:
Close your eyes and say in your mind what I say out loud. I relax my toes and feet. I relax my ankles and calves. I relax my knees and thighs. I relax my hips and waist. With my next breath I breathe this relaxation into my back. I relax my lower back, middle back, upper back. I relax my shoulders away from my ears. I relax my neck, jaw, chin, tongue, cheeks, nose, eyes, forehead and temples. I’m fully relaxed from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. Breathe in peace and exhale tension.
This is an excellent trick to fall asleep at night. (If you are interested, I have a professionally recorded relaxation CD available on my website.)
Sit or stand with your feet on the ground. Imagine the trunk (torso) of your body is the trunk of the tree. Feel the strength of the tree move down through your legs and feet (the roots), anchoring you into earth.
This is a great technique when someone is anxious, agitated or experiencing hyperactivity.
Cognitive Reframing – Not everything that the mind thinks, is true. Some children practice catastrophizing. If your child does this, then s/he sees a situation, perceives it as stressful, and then assumes that every worst possible scenario will occur. Here are some helpful comments to your child when this happens: What is the worst possible thing that can occur? Saying it out loud takes away some of its power. Are you absolutely certain that it will? Compassionate humor may be helpful.
Another thing that anxious children do is obsess about a worry. Teach your child that they can make one evaluation of what took place, or what they are worried about in their future. It is good to learn from things that have happened in our past. Review it ONE TIME. Now the lesson is learned. It is good to plan for something in the future – a difficult conversation, a big project, etc. ONE TIME. After that it is now an action plan with things to DO, not think about. Your child cannot change the past with thoughts. It has happened already. Your child cannot change the future with thoughts. Only their action can influence the future.
Teach your child to use these techniques for oral presentations, tests, difficult conversations and other stressful life activities. Each of these will empower your child to realize that s/he CAN reduce the anxiety. These tips work for all ages. Model them for your child. Engage the support of a qualified professional if the symptoms are affecting your child’s personality, activities, friendships, school success or general life ease. Give your child the opportunity to live the gifts that s/he is, without the anxiety.
Judy Lipson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and educational strategist in West Bloomfield. She helps clients of all ages who have learning difficulties; work or school related anxiety; ADHD; Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorders; and those who wish to Remember and Become Who You Really Are. Contact Judy at 248.568.8665 and firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit www. SpiralWisdom.net for more information.
Published in Metro You Magazine, April 2011