Top 5 Ways for Parents and Grandparents to Help Reduce Anxiety in Their Children/Grandchildren
- Helping children stick to a predictable schedule of proper sleep, healthy eating, and enough exercise lays the foundation for good stress management and lower anxiety levels. Eating processed foods and sugar, in particular, can lead to mood fluctuations and irritability, often causing children to overreact.
- Ensure there is enough balance between school work and other responsibilities and recreation/ “down-time.” Children need to be immersed in the world of play!
- Teach your child calm breathing. Have them lie down on the floor with a book on their chest; breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, have them try to keep the book still (the lower abdomen should rise and fall with each incoming and outgoing breath). Breathing should be slow and natural. Another technique is 1-nostril breathing in which they breathe in and out through only one nostril (close the mouth and hold the other nostril closed); breathing in for 10 and out for 10 for 5 minutes will force a relaxed breathing pattern and oxygenate the blood helping them to feel more relaxed. There are also a lot of excellent free Apps out there to help with relaxation such as Calm.com and Insight Timer.
- For the child who expresses excessive worries and fears, have them write down their thoughts in a journal. If the worries persist, have them record the fears as they sound in their head (most cell phones have a Voice Memo option or equivalent) and listen to the recording for 8-10 minutes daily. With repetition, the worries will start to sound unalarming and boring. They can add to the recording or make new ones if new concerns appear.
- Teach your child how to face their fears gradually. If there is a fear of dogs, have them practice being around different (known, safe) dogs and gradually increase their contact. If there is a fear of trying something new, help them ease into it, always moving in the direction of not avoiding. For example, my son did not want to go to an all-day basketball clinic offered at a local school where he would know no one; while we didn’t force him to go, we did take him to watch 30 minutes of the clinic with the goal that he will attend the next one offered. Giving him that preparation and easing him into it, while also discussing his particular worries about it, helped make it more manageable and encouraged him not to avoid unfamiliar activities and events.
For more information on how to help your child or grandchild conquer his/her fears, check out Dr. Zucker’s updated title, Anxiety-Free Kids: An Interactive Guide for Parents and Children (2nd ed.), as well as her other books on childhood OCD, talking to toddlers about death, and more.
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