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Supporting children with anxiety and Stress

Some hints and tips on how you can support your child/children when they are showing signs of stress and anxiety.

Hi everyone! As you may already know, I’m Lisa, I’m the newest member of the Children and Families support team. I am a fully qualified Play Therapist, and prior to working at the Brain Tumour Charity I was working with children with Special Educational Needs and Disability in a range of settings including School/Preschool, Children’s Hospice environments, and within the community, using Play and Creative therapies to support emotional wellbeing.

Having spoken to some families already, I thought it might be helpful to offer some hints and tips on how you can support your child/children when they are showing signs of stress and anxiety.

What does Anxiety look like for children?

It’s important to consider that anxiety presents itself in different ways. For some children they may emotionally withdraw, suddenly suffering with head and stomach aches, avoiding tasks or events, developing new fears, phobias or rituals. Whereas for other children strong feelings of anger, agitation, frustration or even control may arise. All children are different and they will all cope with situations in their own way. Just remember that no one knows your child the way that you do, so try to trust your instinct wherever you can!

So with this in mind I’ve just popped a few ideas down of practical ways that you can support your child in the here and now, when they are struggling with issues of anxiety and or stress. Obviously this may need to be adapted according to the age/ability of your child!

Time ‘In’

Enjoy 5 or more minutes a day, whereby your child can choose an activity for you to engage in together- this can be anything from a game of snap, to a walk around the block. Dedicating this uninterrupted time to your child will allow them to feel validated, safe and connected to you even during turbulent and unpredictable times.

Routine

When times are unpredictable it seems almost impossible to consider how a routine can be maintained, however try and consider even just one element of your child’s life that you could try and keep the same, since this will help them to feel safe and secure. This could be something as simple as a bed time story every night, before bed.

Bed Time Troubles

Bed time can be a tricky time for most families. For children with anxiety, bed time is particularly difficult. The quiet and or isolation of the night can heighten anxious thought and feelings. Allowing for these anxieties to be released prior to bed time i.e. in the aforementioned methods will support healthier bed time routines, however you might want to try something like calming noises or white noise, to allow the mind to have a calming focus. Additionally dim night lights may also offer temporary support.

Transitional Objects

During stressful times, where you may not be able to be with your child as much as you like, it might be nice to consider an appropriate transitional object to share with them. Something like a small teddy, which you either share between you, or perhaps have 2 of the same one so that you have one each can offer a tactile and visual object of support and reference to your child/parent, during times of stress being able to physically make contact with this object can offer a calming support. Similarly you could create a small symbol which you both share i.e. a small drawing of a heart, drawn onto the skin so that you both have this symbol and are therefore connected during times when you are apart.

Guided visualisation/meditation

This can help with regulating breathing for those suffering with panic attacks (or similar). Having words to listen to as a guide can help to refocus and calm the mind, allowing for healthy breathing methods to resume naturally. Similarly, holding your child physically close or near to you, can allow for subconscious mirroring of your healthy breathing style. The website www.headspace.com/meditation/k… has some lovely suggestions with how to get started with meditation with children.

Shake it out

Yoga and movement can be really beneficial in helping children to work out worries and anxieties by increasing endorphins through exercise. Doing these activities with your children too, will only strengthen their feeling of support. There are some amazing visual guided yoga options available- Cosmic kids is especially engaging for those children under 10 years old, offering themes such as Star Wars, Frozen and so forth, allowing you to tap into your child’s interest to promote engagement. You can find cosmic kids on YouTube, for free.

Mindfulness

Largely interlinked with yoga and meditation as mentioned above, mindfulness is a great tool to teach our children (and lovely for us too!). Recent studies suggest that children who practice mindfulness show improved levels of mental, emotional and social wellbeing, reducing feelings of stress, anxiety and reactivity (Weare, 2012).

Encouraging mindful breaths, paying particular attention to the senses and naming (either out-loud or to yourself) what your senses can ‘sense’; The primary 5 senses are;

Smell, Sight, Sound, Taste and Touch. You can read more about mindfulness and how to practice it here https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-for-kids/

Tactile play

Providing children with tactile objects to interact with can really help to calm their thinking brain, and allow them full access to their creative brain. Using resources like sand, moon sand, water, play doh, slime etc. can take away any pre perceived pressure to ‘create’ something, and allow them complete immersion in exploring the resource at hand, which can offer a sense of calm and control.

It’s worth practising all or some of the above mentioned suggestions with your child before you might actually need to use these skills for example, practice mindful activities or yoga at times when your child is calm, and approachable, this way they have already ‘practiced’ these de-stressing skills, prior to being really stressed! The more they practice these skills, the more capable they will be of utilising them at times where they need to.

These are just a few (hopefully) helpful hints and tips, but you can also get in touch with us directly, should you need more bespoke support.