Talking to kids about anxiety is a good step in helping them overcome situations that make them feel anxious and that they tend to avoid. Getting children to pay attention to their triggers can help them identify why they feel anxious and help them build tools to handle it.
Here are some helpful tips in talking to kids about anxiety.
1- Give it a name. I often refer to anxiety as a case of the "what-ifs". Kids who are anxious will usually start a sentence with "What-If" followed by some anxiety-inducing thought projected about a future event. "What-if I get on the wrong school bus? What if I forget where my locker is? What if I don't understand my homework?"
2- Give the truths about anxiety. Despite its discomfort, anxiety is not dangerous. In fact many kids are surprised to learn that a good amount of anxiety can actually be helpful and is a normal part of life.
3- Describe the triad of anxiety: body, mind, and behavior. Go over the physical sensations. For example, anxiety can be sweaty palms, upset stomach, warm forehead, dizziness, etc. Connect it to non-threatening situations like when you feel butterflies in your stomach when you are on line at the amusement park but the only difference is that you are not thinking that you are scared. Next, catch what it is you were thinking when you felt this way. Then review what you did when you felt anxious. Did it make it better or worse?
4- Teach kids to be like a detective and pay attention to the clues their body is giving them that anxiety is ahead. Encourage them to spot the clues and catch the "what-ifs" early so that they can change what they are thinking and do something else to calm themselves.
5- Share a time when you felt anxious. Modeling appropriate ways of dealing with anxiety is a powerful tool in reinforcing healthy coping behaviors.
A majority of the kids I see suffer from either anxiety or depression issues. At some point or another, the pendulum swings from states of anxiety to states of depression. Worried brains share ineffective loops much like depressed brains. Depressed kids have a hard time stopping the loop of negative thought and affect. This endless negative loop is called rumination. Much like the endless worry loop anxious kids engage in, depressed kids engage in a comparable and similarly ineffective problem solving approach. Kids often get "stuck" in a repetition of negative thoughts. An over focus on thinking related to negative affect leads to depressive behaviors which leads to depressive thoughts and then results in lowered mood. Once kids get on this negative loop it is much like a roller coaster ride that doesn't get you very far.
Here are some tips on how to help kids get "unstuck":
1. Use the metaphor of riding a roller coaster. Give kids the choice not to get on the ride or to choose to get off the ride.
2. Acknowledge that rumination is an ineffective problem solving method. Much like the roller coaster it gets you right back where you started. It doesn't get you positive results....just more negative thoughts and feelings.
3. Ask your kids the following questions:
If you have seen the latest TIME magazine you probably noticed that this concept we called mindfulness seems to be popping up everywhere. It's not just invading newsstands but in pop culture, therapy, yoga, and more. So what is it and how can it help? Simply put the practice of mindfulness describes the act of being present. It means paying attention to your thoughts without judgment. It is focusing on what you're doing at the moment without paying attention to the extraneous noise in your head. Remember the old adage "stop and smell the roses"? If you are like most busy parents it probably is very hard to recall the last time you stopped to experience the beauty of a rose with all your senses. But you should! Mindfulness has been associated with a number of positive health benefits like decreased pain, anxiety and depression. Mindfulness is not just beneficial for busy adults. Teaching your kids to practice mindfulness can help them de-stress after a super packed day. With kids being over-scheduled and over-stimulated the practice of multi-tasking is taking precedence. While multi-tasking isn't an inherently bad thing it is good for kids to learn what it feels like to sit still and experience their thoughts and sensations. Mindfulness can help them stay in the present moment, enjoy and accept their experiences, and learn better control of their feelings. So take this moment to not only become more mindful yourself but to teach your kids this helpful practice!
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Set aside a time to practice being mindful.
2. Teach kids about recognizing their internal voice or thought. For example, "When I look at the sun I think how bright and yellow it is."
3. Teach kids to stay in the present by paying attention to their thoughts and filtering out the noise. I like using the example of a radio dial.
When we pay attention to the present moment it's like tuning the radio to a channel that comes in clear. For instance, when we pay attention to the sun we are experiencing it with all our senses, how it looks, how it feels on our skin, etc, and the channel comes in clear. When we look at the sun and start to think about how bright the sun should be, we start thinking about the times when the sun was brighter and are no longer in the present moment. When we leave the present moment we are not paying attention to what is going on around us and it's like hearing a lot of static on the radio.
5. Pick 1 thing to do with your kids to practice being mindful where they engage all their senses. For instance go for a walk on the beach or take a bubble bath at bedtime.
6. Model being mindful for your kids by describing each sensation vividly and concretely every step along the way.
7. Redirect any questions, thoughts, or judgments back to the present. For example, "Oh no i'm starting to hear some static let's tune the radio dial back to the present".
Labor day is upon us which for most means that September is here, summer is over, and school is back in session. Children and parents alike are filled with anticipation, excitement and anxiety for their return back to school. Alarm clocks are being set for school bus pickups (some disturbingly early) and first day outfits are being laid out. So what are some first day points to share with your children (and yourselves) on your first day back:
1. Normalize the experience. It's everyone's first day. It's okay to be nervous.
2.Practice good habits from the start. Be organized. Use your planner. Stay on top of deadlines.
3. Ask tons of questions. Clarify things when needed.
4. Set yearly goals, i.e. read more this year, do better in math, join a club etc.
5. Maintain good sleep.
Here's to a wonderful school year!
Natascha M. Santos, Psy. D.