How to help your anxious child (without feeling overwhelmed yourself)

(AKA The story of the Magic Buttons, silencing our inner meanies, power posing and how the Big Bad Wolf can help us to ward off the “mind monsters” )

Help anxious child calm

Once upon a time (long, long, ago, when you were just a blue line on a pregnancy indicator test*), I was in the classroom.  A little girl entered with a wobbly, quivering lip and eyes brimming with tears.  

We were about to do a dictation test, but I knew that wasn’t what was troubling her. (I never referred to them as “tests”, instead, I always told the children that I wanted evidence of how brilliant they are.  I assigned the dictation for homework, a couple of sentences each night.  This allowed the children to feel confident in their ability to hit the target on a Friday).

positive self-talk

I sensed that she wasn’t quite ready to disclose what was on her mind. 

Sometimes, the best way to help an anxious child is to give them a little bit of space.

When we are dealing with an anxious child, it’s important not to push them to talk.  If they are feeling emotionally flooded, they may not be ready to engage with an adult.  Also, young children may not have the words to articulate how they are feeling.  Instead, as adults, we can try to be a warm and caring presence.  We can signal to the anxious child that we are aware of them.  We can do our best to provide stability, routine and kindness.

Now I’ll get back to the story!  As usual, we read out our daily affirmation on our classroom calendar. It’s a lovely exercise to help children to silence their inner meanies and to promote positive self-talk.

We each picked an affirmation card (hers was about being courageous – apt and selected at random).  Then we did our habitual power pose to gear us up to shine and ace the dictation exercise.

I could see that she was still on the verge of tears, so I asked her if she wanted to talk about what was on her mind.  She confided in me about what was causing her anxiety.

I showed her the “magic buttons” she can access anytime. We imagined that her “mind monsters” (worrying thoughts) were circling overhead. I encouraged her to pretend she was the Big Bad Wolf and we blew those monsters away.  That little girl was beaming and couldn’t wait to tell the others about her “magic buttons”. Maybe they didn’t all live happily ever after, but that little girl found a way to conquer her anxiety in the moment.

*actually it wasn’t all THAT long ago

I can’t take the credit for that idea, it was one I learned from Joanne Callan when I completed my Relax Kids training.  It got me thinking though, there are lots of simple coping tools I’ve come across in the classroom.

I’m currently working towards a Masters in Child and Adolescent Counselling and I have come across lots of helpful resources.

Reflecting on that incident in the classroom inspired me to post about strategies that you can adapt.  I’m all for prevention, early intervention, and sharing tools to self-soothe.

Let’s help the little superstars in your life to handle their overwhelming feelings.