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While experienced in different ways, it is likely that all children will go through periods of anxiety in their lives. This could present in many different ways; whether that’s exhibited as separation anxiety in younger children, or a fear of new experiences throughout childhood.
As parents, teaching your child to develop coping skills at a young age, and providing them with opportunities to talk about their concerns will help them to feel calm and deal with stress in the face of adversity in the future.
A great way to reduce anxiety is with mindful activities that focus a child’s attention on the present moment. Depending on the age of your child, you could choose to call these ‘anxiety activities’ or ‘happy brain habits’ – or sit and help your child come up with an entirely different name altogether!
We’ve put together some of our favourite ideas to help young people address their feelings and worries without feeling anxious:
In the fast-paced world we live in, it’s easy to get caught up in rushing around without stopping to think and take in our surroundings. It’s this pausing to be aware of yourself, your feelings and what’s around you that we refer to as mindfulness.
Being mindful helps us to notice signs of stress or anxiety earlier as well as help us be able to deal with them better.
Mindfulness has been shown to have many benefits for children, including:
Fun activities that focus on being mindful can help to improve mental health and reduce the effects of an anxiety disorder. As a parent, these activities will help you support your child in how they deal with stress or anxiety and give them the resources they need to overcome an anxious moment, even when you aren’t there.
Worry boxes allow an anxious child to write down their worries and get rid of them by posting them.
The aim of a worry box is to calm a child by:
To create a worry box, you’ll need any sort of container. This could be a tissue box or a plastic sandwich box. You’ll also need things to decorate the box with, such as pens, paints, stickers, or wrapping paper. You may also need sticky tape and scissors for decorating. Finally, you’ll need paper and a pen for your child to write about their worries.
Explain to your child that worrying is normal, but if our heads get too full of worries, it can be overwhelming and make it difficult to think about or do other things.
Then, introduce the worry box and explain that you’ll be making it together so that they don’t have to carry their worries around. It’s important that they know you’ll be with them when they think about their worries and can help them to talk it through.
Agree with your child where the box will be kept, avoiding places near their bedroom so that there is a distance between them and their worries.
Finally, you’ll want to agree on a time to use the box with your child. After writing down their worries, discussing them and posting them in the box, make sure you spend some time focusing on something positive. You could even set your child the challenge of focusing on their breathing at the same time too.
Mindful balancing is a great activity for when children feel anxious or if they are prone to panic attacks. Combining physical and mental focus, mindful balancing helps children to feel calm, centred, and present.
Not only does this activity improve a child’s sense of balance and body awareness, but it also doesn’t require any equipment and can be done almost anywhere.
Tell your kids to choose a space with plenty of room around them. Encourage them to pick a spot slightly below eye level to stare at and to help with balance. Then, suggest that your kids lift a leg off the ground with their knee bent at a right angle. Challenge them to see how long they can stand on one leg without hopping.
You can take this exercise a step further with deep breathing. While your kids are balancing, encourage them to take a deep breath, focusing on how they feel as their lungs inflate and then, as they breathe out, feel their stress and everything that makes them feel worried, drift away.
Explore gratitude with your younger children by going back and forth with as many things you are both thankful for that day. This exercise aims to replace anxious thoughts with positive thinking.
Start by saying ‘aren’t I lucky’, and then follow with the experience you are grateful for. For example, aren’t I lucky I got to play my favourite football game at school today.
This activity can become part of your daily routine at dinner time or in the drive home from school. Alternatively, you could create a gratitude box for your kids to use at any time of the day.
It’s important for your whole family, both parents and children, to share their positive experiences, going back and forth as many times as possible. You may even find that this has a positive impact on you too, as a parent, providing the opportunity to talk about things that may otherwise be forgotten in the chaos of everyday life.
Exploring touch with different sensations is another fun way for children to connect with their bodies and senses. From a young age, touch and sensation are important to children; this is why many children become attached to a transitional object such as a comfort blanket or a cuddly toy.
In this exercise, by choosing a variety of different objects, your kids can compare the difference in how they feel to touch.
These objects could range from a stuffed animal and play dough, to a stress ball and fidget toys. As well as static items, your child can explore the sensation of moving items, such as how splashing warm water makes them feel compared to when they blow bubbles.
Experiencing different sensations can help your child focus on their feelings and reduce stress and anxious thoughts.
The mindfulness jar (also known as a mind jar) is a great activity to show children how strong emotions can take over and how to feel calmer, in a visual way.
For this activity, you’ll need a clear glass jar with a lid and some glitter glue (or glue and dried glitter mixed together).
Fill the glass jar until it is almost completely full, and add a big spoonful of glitter glue. With the lid securely back on the jar, shake it up to make the glitter swirl.
Show your child the shaken jar and explain to them that the glitter is like their thoughts when they’re stressed, frustrated, or upset. Let them see how hard it is to see clearly when they’re upset.
You may wish to use this script:
“Imagine that the glitter is like your thoughts when you’re stressed, mad or upset. See how they whirl around and make it really hard to see clearly? That’s why it’s so easy to make silly decisions when you’re upset – because you’re not thinking clearly. Don’t worry this is normal and it happens in all of us (yep, grown ups too).”
Now, put the jar down on a table in front of them. As the glitter settles and the water clears, explain that it’s similar to their brain. Taking the time to feel calm will help them to see things more clearly when they’ve been feeling anxious.
“Now watch what happens when you’re still for a couple of moments. Keep watching. See how the glitter starts to settle and the water clears? Your mind works the same way. When you’re calm for a little while, your thoughts start to settle and you start to see things much clearer. Deep breaths during this calming process can help us settle when we feel a lot of emotions.”
This activity not only helps children to learn about how their emotions can cloud their thoughts but focusing on the swirling glitter also encourages them to be mindful and remain in the moment.
If you’d like to explore more fun activities to help your child keep active and healthy, our Stay Active resources are packed full of ideas designed to support your child’s health and wellbeing.
If you feel that you or your children require more support, YoungMinds is a mental health charity dedicated to supporting children and young adults.