When you have a child that struggles with anxiety and panic disorder, it can be frustrating not knowing how to help them. I distinctly remember one tough night when my preteen was crying almost hysterically for what seemed to be no legitimate reason.
Of course it was also the night we were scheduled to take the picture for our Christmas card.
No, you CANNOT make this stuff up.
At the time, I had no real skills for helping her manage anxiety and aside from 'stop crying' or "it's not that bad" I didn't know what to say. Luckily, since then I've learned that there are a lots of great techniques you can try out. Here are some different ways to calm an anxious child without just telling them to relax.
Have Them Write Out the Problem
For many kids, the anxiety isn’t just general like from GAD, but is actually linked to something specific. Perhaps they have an oral presentation at school they are afraid of doing, or they are having panic over separation anxiety as you have a trip coming up soon. When your child is feeling anxious, no matter what is causing it, give them a journal and have them write out what they are feeling. They can write about anything and keep it private, with you making a promise you will only read it if they want you to. Just the act of writing it down can be a huge help for kids with anxiety.
Give Them Activities to Distract Them
In other cases, kids do best when they don’t have to think about what is making them anxious, particularly when they are having a panic attack. This is when toys and activities come in handy. Don’t just put them in front of a television, as that is often the wrong form of stimulation to get out of a panic attack. Instead, get them some different sensory activities using various colors and textures, try fidget toys, or give them crafts and art supplies.
Learn Deep Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises are recommended to most people with anxiety and panic disorder, including children and teens. You can work with your child to learn breathing exercises and do them together. Deep breathing is so healing and is a natural way to help reduce overall anxiety and help with various panic attacks. Whether your child has a specific phobia, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, or separation anxiety, these breathing exercises can help tremendously.
Reward Their Bravery and Courage
While you don’t want to punish your child for being too anxious or worrying too much, it is okay to reward them when they are brave and courageous. This combination of external praise can help them connect with the idea that their feelings are something that they can control. Even children with anxiety can overcome it and try really hard to put themselves out there and try new things, even when they are scared to do so. It is good to encourage this type of behavior.