Feelings of anxiety and worry are a common experience. I would encourage you to look at the signals of stress as positive and not harmful. Truly! Anxiety is a sign that we are more in our heads (future) and less grounded in our bodies (present moment). It is important that we teach our children that they do not need to fear moments of anxiety. By teaching your child to tune into their feelings and learn how to ground themselves, you can take the fear out of anxiety! Here are some practical things they can do during their school day to ground themselves in the present moment.
1). Body Scan: We want to teach our children to recognize when and where they are feeling anxiety in their bodies so they can increase their self-awareness. You can state the following observations or ask the following questions the next time your child seems worried or anxious.
- “I notice that when you are talking about your test tomorrow, you are pulling on your hair, do you think you are feeling worried about the test.”
- “I notice that when you’re talking about who you’re going to sit with at lunch tomorrow, you are fidgeting with your hands, do you think you are worried about this?”
- “Where else do you feel your worry?”
- “Do you feel tightness in your chest?”
- “Do you notice that you are clenching your jaw?”
- “Do you feel any pressure or heat in your shoulders or legs?”
- “If you could assign a color to the worry you feel in your body, what color would it be? Where else do you think you have this color in your body?
2). Deep Breathing: If the answer was “yes” to any of the above, you would want to help your child discharge the extra energy in a healthy way. The best way to do this is through conscious breathing. It discharges extra energy that worry and anxiety brings into the body and allows your child to release the worry rather than store it in their bodies. Start by having your child place their hand over their heart. Ask them to take a slow and big inhale and count silently to 3 (e.g., 1, 2, 3). Then, as they exhale, have them count silently to 3 (e.g., 1,2,3). The first time they practice with you, I suggest you do this with them and count allowed. The focus during deep breathing is to expand your stomach and not your chest. By placing a hand over their heart, they can be centered and focus on expanding their stomachs in and out. Have them repeat these deep and measured breaths three times. Now that they know how to discharge their excess energy and worry through breathing, they can practice this every time they notice anxiety creeping in.
3). Grounding Rituals: We often forget that we need to practice our mental hygiene daily, just as we do with our physical hygiene. We teach our children early on how to take care of their bodies. One body ritual we all have is brushing our teeth daily to avoid cavities. Just the same, to keep their minds healthy, teach your child a grounding ritual. Have your child choose a small object they can put in their pockets. For example, a stone or crystal. This object is to remind the child of the importance of their mental health. They can start each day by holding their object in their hand and stating a gratitude and an intention for how they will take care of their mental health. We know that practicing gratitude helps combat stress, worry, and anxiety by training the brain to see the positives around us more easily. By keeping the object in their pocket and reaching for it during times of stress, they can remember their intention to care for themselves. See some examples below:
- “I am grateful for my mom, who drives me to school. I set the intention of practicing three breaths today before I go into my test.”
- “I am grateful for pancakes for breakfast. I set the intention to have fun during lunchtime with my friends.”
Julianne Guinasso, LMFT