If you have an anxious child and you would like to help them worry less, then I can't recommend these two books more highly enough. I have a child who worries quite a bit (though getting better!), and also god daughter that suffers from it severely (so much so that it interferes with her every day life, and even going on a train or doing anything out of the ordinary triggers a panic attack). I know that these two books have changed her life (and her family's too!)
The book 'What do do when you worry too much' by Dawn Huebner is for a child to read with an adult. It informs children what is going on inside their head, so that they can understand why they worry, the physical effects that worrying can have on the body, and most importantly gives ways to control it.
The second book, The Opposite of worry by Lawrence J Cohen is written for parents and carers & goes into much greater depth. It states how and why what you need to do is give your anxious child empathy, security, physical closeness, eye contact and suggests ways to help your child to relax, in particular through play fighting with a loved one, exercise and meditation and mindfulness.
In case you don't time to read them (why do they have to make self help books so long?!), I will summarise the main findings below...
REVIEW OF 'WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU WORRY TOO MUCH':
This book likens worries to seeds, in particular tomato seeds. And how the more you water seeds, the more they grow, and the same goes for worries. The more you think about them, the bigger and bigger they grow. If you don't water the seeds, then they will not grow!
- Children look to the parent for how they deal in a crisis, and to know when time to worry, and time to stop. Always be aware your child is looking to your clues on how to feel! So try to keep calm at all times.
- Don't tell children they are being ridiculous. Instead you must totally empathise, and not alienate or ridicule their feelings.
- Instead of insisting your child IS safe, when they don't feel safe, you might ask: Would you be willing to let me be in charge of safety?
- Say: I understand you are scared and I know that you are safe
- Introduce a scale via which you can ask your children what their anxiety level is, 1 being relaxed, and 10 being extremely scared. Thinking about a number employs a different part of their brain, which will immediately reduce their anxiety. Then depending where they are on the scale you can act accordingly
For kids experiencing the high end of anxiety, say 8-10 level
- Physical comfort is best. Talk less and cuddle more. Try rocking, humming or gentle massage. If they won't let you get too close (common in extremely anxious children) then step a few Feet away and send love and affection.
- For kids that have frozen in terror, you could try shaking on purpose, and encourage them to scream, jump up and down and make their whole bodies shake. It lets out the blocked feelings in A safe way which can bring down anxiety quickly.
- For children who are already very upset, sweating, crying etc, they are spontaneously releasing their overloaded feelings. It's called 'getting unscared' - it's not pleasant but it is healthy, these kids need your calm, loving presence nearby so they can slowly recover a sense of ease. Don't try to hush children when they are trying to get unscared. Don't tell them that the situation is too small for such big feelings, they are communicating something important.
- You could try ice-cold water for high anxiety, plunging your childs' head or body (with their permission!) into very cold water causes heart rate to slow...
- Remind your child that they are having a panic attack, that it will pass, that no harm will come and it's not life threatening.
For mid scale / medium anxiety (say level 3-8)
- iI kids are aren't in extreme crisis or panic mode, they can absorb the lessons of relaxation
- The simplest way to move down the scale is to count down. Ask your child their number on the scale, and then have them count down slowly from that number down to one. When they are done, ask for the new number. One countdown rarely provides full relief, but it almost always brings the number down a little. Repeat countdown until they become bored or you get down to three. You can count down as you inhale or exhale, or visualise walking down a staircase, count aloud, or silently with eyes open or closed. You can add words between each number eg seven, deeper and deeper relaxed, six deeper and deeper etc.
- Get physical. Rigorous exercise is one of the most widely used and effective anxiety reduction techniques. The key is to work the body very hard in rhythmic activity such as running or jumping jacks. Try rigorous exercise that involves brain power too, like obstacle courses or challenging yoga poses.
- Try the bounce. this is standing and bouncing gently up and down on the balls of your feet, letting your heels rise and fall, never quite touching the ground. Add a little shake of your hands.
- Numerous yoga poses promote relaxation. Try standing with arms by side, back straight, look ahead and close yes and imagine the crown of your head lifting upward, as your feet remain firmly planed. Just a few deep breaths in this posture can provide a strong sense of feeling grounded.
- Try guided visualisation which is painting a relaxing picture with words while your child vividly imagines being in that safe place.
- Make your child aware that is is possible to choose to relax. They tend to believe that they will feel anxious forever but with these techniques they can learn to take charge of their emotional states.
- Try teaching kids several techniques across the scale and then let them pick and use a couple of their favourites.
- Try mindfulness, in particular focusing on breathing and the in and out flow or breath, the sensations at the tips of your nostrils, the movement of your belly et. Try dragon breath, which is breathing a big breath in through your nose and opening your mouth as wide as possible and exhaling like you are blowing fire.
- Try to be here in the now - which is just noticing and accepting what your senses are experiencing, RIGHT NOW. eg notice your feet on the floor, or your bottom on or your chair, oft the air on your skiing.
- Lots of anxious children respond well to play fighting or 'roughhousing' as it's sometimes called. Do rough and tumble with your child, obviously not rough enough to hurt them though! Just rabble a bit and try to have fun, try force-field hands or pushing hands. Try chase and miss... chase them and at the last minute make a lunge and miss, and you can make this comedy! Wrestle.
- Try putting a hand on their solar plexus, which is the centre of the chest. Warmth in this area is a signal to the body to relax.
- Stimulate other senses: eg a lovely smell, beautiful picture, delicious food, nice music etc to take the focus away from feeling anxious.
- Avoid avoidance, you need your child to face their fears, just gently!
If you have an anxious child, or one that worries too much, I really can't recommend these books highly enough.