Everyone experiences anxiety at some point or another. Children too can experience anxiety. It is actually quite normal for young kids to have certain fears such as being scared of the dark or loud noises. However, your child might be suffering from anxiety if these fears start to interfere with his/her daily functioning.
Causes of anxiety in children
Anxiety in children can be caused by biological factors, familial factors and environmental factors.
Biological factors refer to the balance (or imbalance) of serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters relay messages in the brain and tell us how we should feel. Feelings of anxiety can arise when these neurotransmitters are sending incorrect signals.
Familial factors include genetic as well as learned behavior from a parent or a caregiver. Children whose parents have anxiety are more likely to be worried and fearful.
Environmental factors refer to experiences that the child has gone through. A traumatic experience such as illness, divorce or death may become a trigger for anxiety if it is not dealt with properly.
Anxiety treatment options
Anxiety disorders can become debilitating if not properly treated. Children with anxiety disorders will benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, play therapy and medication. Different children respond differently to different treatments and there is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment when it comes to anxiety.
Therapeutic Games for Anxiety
Besides therapy, an anxious child will also benefit from therapeutic games and activities that will help them to recognize and regulate their emotions. You can use these games and activities to teach your child skills and techniques to cope with anxiety as well as to open up conversations about their fears and worries.
Best fun activities to reduce anxiety in kids
1. Make Slime!
Most kids love slime. There are tons of YouTube tutorials on how to make slime with household ingredients. If you haven’t tried making slime before, you are definitely in for a fun time.
If you have a child who responds to sensory stimuli, have a go at this activity. The feeling of slime running through their fingers might just calm them down. Additionally, you can add a few drops of lavender essential oil into the slime mixture as it will help your child to relax.
2. Create a Journal
There are many children who do not know how to express themselves verbally. Journaling will help them to process what is happening and it’s sometimes easier to write rather than talk about feelings.
The journal can be decorated with markers, pictures, and stickers. Journaling can also be useful if a child is unable to talk to a trusted person about their feelings.
One of the best ways to open a discussion and teach children about dealing with anxiety is through books. Books that have characters that go through the same fears and worries will help children to realize that they are not alone.
Here are some books that can help kids to manage and overcome anxiety.
- How Big are Your Worries, Little Bear? By Jayneen Sanders
- When My Worries Get Too Big by Kari Dunn Buron
- It’s Okay to Make Mistakes by Todd Parr
- Wilma Jean the Worry Machine by Julia Cook
- Hey Warrior! By Karen Young
4. Positive Bracelet
This is a bracelet that helps kids to calm down with positive thoughts.
To make this bracelet, start off with a discussion about the things that cause them to feel scared or worried. Once you pinpoint a few things that cause anxiety, come up with positive phrases that they can repeat to themselves when the situation arises. Assign each phrase to a different colored bead and string the beads together to form a bracelet.
The bracelet can be worn to help remind them of the positive phrases and help them calm down when they feel anxiety creeping in.
5. Create Worry Boxes
The aim of worry boxes is to enable children to be able to identify and discuss their anxious thoughts.
You can use tissue boxes that have ready cut out slots or other small boxes. Just cut out a slot at the top. The outside of the box can be covered in construction paper and you can get your kids to decorate the boxes.
Boxes can be labeled with ‘Fears’, ‘Scary Things’ or anything that is affecting them. Once the box is ready, kids can write or draw whatever is bothering them and drop the paper into the box.
It’s a good way for kids to identify fears and worries and it gives you an opportunity to talk to them about their thoughts if they want to do so.
6. Blow Bubbles
One of the ways to reduce anxiety is through breathing techniques. Deep breathing helps our body to ‘rest’.
Children can learn and practice deep breathing by blowing bubbles!
Have the child take a deep breath in and slowly breath out to blow a big bubble. As they do this, explain to them how deep breathing will help them to relax. Have fun practising and blowing lots of bubbles!
7. Calm Down Jars
All you need is some warm water, glitter glue, glitter and a plastic jar/bottle. You can use an unwanted drinking bottle as well.
Put all the materials in the bottle, shake it up and watch the glitter slowly sink to the bottom. This incredibly simple tool can be used in stressful moments. You can incorporate deep breathing with calm down jars.
Have fun creating smaller versions to keep in the car or in their school bag. Be sure to tape the cover or lids, especially for younger children to avoid spillage.
Painting is a fun activity that can be relaxing and therapeutic.
Encourage the anxious child to paint pictures of things or places that make them feel calm and happy. You might find that they are more open to talking about their feelings when they are creating their artwork.
9. Make Your Own Stress Balls
You will need balloons, flour, rice or play dough for this activity.
Use a small funnel to fill the balloons with these materials and tie it up. For extra security, you can double wrap it with another balloon.
Stress balls are a great distraction and perfect for when children are feeling nervous.
10. 5 4 3 2 1 Grounding Technique
This is a technique that both adults, as well as children, can use to keep themselves calm. Encourage the anxious child to stay in the present by going through their five senses.
- Take a deep breath to begin.
- Look for 5 things that they can see. For example, I see a table, I see a chair and so on.
- Name 4 things that their body can feel. For example, I can feel the wind in my face and I can feel the gloves on my hands.
- Listen for 3 sounds and say what you can hear. For example, I can hear the trees rustling and I can hear the dog barking.
- Name 2 things you can smell. For example, I can smell apple pie.
- Name 1 thing you can taste. For example, I can taste the mint from my toothpaste.
- Take a deep breath to end.
11. Take a Bath
Sometimes, taking a bath or a shower will help children to calm down. Bath times can be very relaxing. Allow your child some bath toys and give them some time to relax and unwind.
An added bonus to this activity is a clean kid!
12. Go for a Walk
Going for a walk helps in clearing our heads. Fresh air and exercise do wonders and the natural walking rhythm is soothing.
Allow the conversation to flow freely and your child might just let you in on what’s troubling them.
13. Knead Bread
Allow little ones to relieve stress by making some bread. There are tons of simple recipes online. The pushing and repetitive kneading of the dough is an activity that will help your child calm down.
You will also have some delicious bread after!
14. Alphabetical Animals
This ‘game’ will come in handy when you do not have much with you and need a quick way to calm your child. Ask your child to take a deep breath and give one animal to each alphabet from A to Z.
Doing this will help your child to focus less on the stressor. It’s a great and fun coping skill that can be used anywhere.
15. Calm Down Toolbox
A calm down toolbox is an excellent way to empower children to cope with their anxiety. The toolbox can be home to many of the items that are mentioned above. Additionally, you can keep a list of calming techniques/activities such as the 5 4 3 2 1 Grounding Technique in the toolbox.
It is good to explain to the child that they may need different ‘tools’ for different days. With the toolbox, the child will be able to choose which ‘tool’ to use to help them calm down, and thus, start in regulating his or her emotions on their own.
Children usually do not realize how intense their feelings are and at times, will need help in learning how to regulate their emotions. With the list above, you can help give your child tools as well as teach them simple techniques to use when they feel nervous or anxious. Don’t give up if the first tool does not seem to help your child calm down. Each child is different and you may need to try a tool or technique a few times before it is successful. Remember to stay calm and continue to encourage your child in his/her journey in overcoming anxiety.