3 Simple Tips for Lowering Anxiety in Younger Kids
For many kids, childhood is a time of wonder and awe. But even in the most loving and stable of family environments, children can still feel fear and anxiety. No parent can possibly anticipate every potential fear and there are many situations and events in childhood that can make a child anxious.
Think back to your own childhood for example. Every new experience was often met with some wariness. It was common to feel a bit anxious on the first day of school or when meeting someone new for the first time. We know that kids often feel anxious in a variety of situations such as bedtime, the dentist’s office, or at swim class. These feelings are completely normal.
Anxiety Can Impact Kids Differently
When children experience anxiety, they may behave in any number of ways. They might run away, become very quiet, scream, shake, act silly, cling to a parent, or have a tantrum to avoid the stressful situation. You may have tried to talk to your child and reason with them in these moments but to no avail. That’s because your child’s amygdala (the emotional side of the brain) has taken over their rational part causing them to believe they are in real danger.
Brain research suggests that it is extremely difficult for young children to think logically or control their behavior during these anxious moments. They are experiencing real fear as well as the fight/flight/freeze mode that accompanies it.
3 Simple Tips for Lowering Anxiety in Younger Kids
No matter how your child reacts or behaves when experiencing anxiety, the best thing you can do is to help them regain their sense of safety in the moment. That will look different for each child so you may have to experiment a bit. But don’t get discouraged if you try several things and nothing seems to help at first. Keep trying and you are likely to find something that will work.
Here are three science-based suggestions on ways parents can help their children manage their anxiety. All of them can help your child regain their sense of safety.
Stimulate your child’s Vagus nerve.
Located on both sides of the voice box, the vagus nerve carries an extensive range of signals from the digestive system and organs to the brain and vice versa. It is the tenth cranial nerve, extending from the brainstem through the neck and the thorax down to the abdomen.
Studies have shown that stimulating it can interrupt the fight/flight/freeze mode and send a signal to your child’s brain that they are not under attack.
Here are some easy and fun ways to help your child to stimulate this nerve:
Chewing gum might help increase the release of CCK (a gut hormone) which seems to directly activate vagal impulses in the brain.
Hum or sing
Singing at “the top of your lungs” has been shown to work the muscles in the back of the throat to activate the vagus. Researchers think that energetic singing activates both the sympathetic nervous system and vagus nerve, which might help people get into a flow state
Laughter may indeed be the best medicine. Scientists suggest that laughter might be capable of stimulating the vagus nerve, claiming that laughter therapy is something that may be powerful for health.
There are obviously many spiritual benefits to prayer. But prayer has also been shown to slow and deepen breathing which tends to stimulate the vagus nerve.
Aside from feeling comforting and soothing to your child, neck and foot massages may also stimulate the vagus nerve.
Gargle with regular warm water
The vagus nerve activates the muscles in the back of the throat that allow you to gargle. Gargling contracts these muscles, which may activate the vagus nerve and stimulate the gastrointestinal tract.
Help them slow their breathing.
When children are anxious, they tend to take rapid shallow breaths from the chest. Taking slower, deeper breaths from the abdomen sends a signal to their brain that they are safe and can relax.
Older children may be able to follow you as you show them slow breathing exercises. For younger children, there are some playful ways to get them to slow down and control their breathing.
You can have them blow bubbles, blow into a pinwheel, pretend your fingers are birthday candles and have them slowly blow them out, teach them to whistle and simply see if they can hold their breath for three seconds as if they were swimming.
Research also suggests that humor can significantly reduce anxiety. Humor has a way of distracting, relaxing muscles and releasing endorphins that combat stress and anxiety.
Try silly knock-knock jokes or word games like “I went on a picnic”. A quick internet search will result in a ton of corny jokes that your child will most likely love. So, print some out and have them on hand.
Being anxious from time to time is part of life, but if you use these three techniques, you can help your child manage their emotions much more effectively.
What’s Holding You Back from Beginning Online Child Anxiety Treatment?
If your child’s anxiety feels too big to deal with on your own as a parent and you need help figuring out what to do about it, online therapy can help. Anxiety in younger kids may feel overwhelming, but it is highly treatable.
Perhaps you view online counseling as inferior to in person counseling?
Studies have shown that online counseling delivers equal benefits to in-office counseling and also provides advantages for kids:
- Video chatting imitates the way kids are most comfortable communicating with friends.
- They may feel “safer” than visiting an office and talking to an adult in person.
- Kids can relax in a familiar environment and surround themselves with pets and favorite toys.
- Online counseling makes therapy more accessible to kids with severe anxiety.
- Online sessions are easier for parents to manage because no commute is required.
Researchers have also studied how kids respond to computer-based therapy and found that it can be helpful for both depression and anxiety.
Begin Online Therapy for Kids and Teens with Anxiety in Illinois and now Florida!
As an experienced and caring therapist, I love providing counseling for anxiety. To start your child’s counseling journey, call me at 224-236-2296 or email Helena@BrieflyCounseling.com to schedule a FREE 20-minute consultation.
Whether you’re on the North Shore, in Naperville, Chicago, Champaign, Barrington, Libertyville, Glenview, or downstate Illinois, I can help.
And effective 2024, I am now licensed in Florida! For parents in Jacksonville, Pensacola, Destin, Crestview, Coral Gables, Weston, Parkland, Naples, Marco Island, and Pinecrest, I have immediate openings.
Schedule your appointment or consultation today. I look forward to working with your child to quickly and effectively help them in activating their strengths, resources, and resilience, in order to live with confidence and hope.