Most parents have experienced a frightened or anxious child. Anxiety often initiates the fight-or-flight response, triggering the release of chemicals that ramp up heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure to mobilize the body for action. As a result, children may cry, shake, cling, hide, be especially quiet, be still, act out, or feel nauseated. After the threat is gone, it can take twenty to sixty minutes for the body to return to normal.
According to a recent article in Psychology Today, there are simple strategies that help children calm down, regain a sense of safety, and address their anxiety.
#1 Take slower, deeper breaths from the abdomen or diaphragm to lower heart rate and induce relaxation.
#2 Get active—physically demanding tasks, such as pushing, pulling, and exercise can help calm the child.
# 3 Make a plan together, such as taking short walks, having a special treat, watching a comical movie, etc.
#4 Enact rituals or “stability anchors” to help relieve stress, such as reading comic books and creating regular rituals before, during, or after anxiety-provoking events.
#5 Name it—help kids to tell a story about what’s upsetting them.
#6 Relax—meditating or narrowing attention on one particular conversation can help soothe and focus the child.
#7 Laugh—this distracts, relaxes muscles, and releases endorphins.
#8 Reflect—When a child triumphs over a tricky situation, reflection on why he or she was anxious and how he or she conquered fear helps bring more awareness and potential ease to future situations.
When I was about five years old I had a tonsillectomy. I had never been in a hospital prior to that and, surely, I was afraid and anxious. However, when the doctor arrived in the surgical room he was very kind. He smiled at me and told me he had done many tonsillectomies. He reassured me—another calming strategy that was effective. Fortunately, the surgery was a success and after staying overnight in the hospital I was discharged and returned home the next day.
During a time when so many parents are quarantined at home with their young children, while having to juggle work and school responsibilities, I am hoping the list above will be of some benefit. It can also be used to work with the inner child we all have, who may very likely be experiencing some anxiety during this uncertain time. All comments are welcome.