Is your child a worrier? How to use mindfulness to ease anxiety

Learn techniques to help address your child's worries.

Do you have a child who regularly has meltdowns in response to what may seem everyday occurrences to you? For example, do they spend a lot of time worrying about noises, bad people, scary stories, school, going to the doctor, taking a spelling test or thunder? For some children, their imagination can literally get away with them and worry can turn into anxiety. When your child is feeling anxious, sometimes just letting them talk it out can help ease fears and help them to calm down.

If your child is misbehaving or being overly aggressive, take some time to consider where this behavior may be coming from. Instead of simply acting out, they may be reacting to worries or fears that they do not know how to handle. Their actions could likely be signs of chronic anxiety, which can often lead to disruptive behaviors in children.

According to the Child Mind Institute (CMI), many parents will try to eliminate their child’s anxious feelings by removing the things they fear most. This is done to protect them; but instead, CMI says this actually exacerbates a child’s anxiety. Rather than removing stressors, parents should help the child learn how to tolerate their anxiety and function as well as is possible. If the child believes that they can manage their anxiety, their anxious feelings will decrease over time.

If your child is anxious, they are not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to one out of every five children in the United States experiences a mental health disorder like anxiety. Parents can further support this growth by respecting the child’s feelings, expressing positive and realistic expectations, asking open ended questions, keeping the anticipatory period short, communicating openly with the child and modeling healthy ways to handle anxiety.

The Child Mind Institute also suggests mindfulness and meditation practices to help lessen a child’s anxiety and increase his or her focus. According to mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” This can be done by sitting comfortably and focusing on the breath. The goal is to be present in the moment, give distance between the self and the mind and to observe. Help your child learn to slow their breathing down by blowing on a pinwheel or blowing bubbles.

Mindfulness has recently emerged as a successful way to treat children and teens with a variety of mental health conditions including ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, depression and stress. According to mindfulness experts, mindful-meditation can teach children to witness thoughts and feelings so that they can then choose their behaviors. It can also make children less emotionally reactive and more tolerant of daily challenges. Make a calming jar to give your child a visual cue to help relax the strain on their brain.

Reading books together with children can help them work through some tough emotions in a safe and nurturing way. Some helpful books you may want to try include Please Explain “Anxiety” to Me! by Laurie Zelinger, PhD, and Jordan Zelinger, MS Ed or What to Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebner, PhD.

If you are worried about your worrier, have a talk with their pediatrician. They are most knowledgeable and can refer you to experts in the field of children’s mental health. There are many avenues to help children work through anxiety and build lifelong resiliency skills. You could also sign up for a Stress Less with Mindfulness series through Michigan State University Extension to learn stress reduction techniques you can do as a family.

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