Are you trying to comfort an anxious child?
As every parent knows, once you navigate the initial basic dangers of childhood with your kids like water safety and not touching a hot stove, many other challenges appear along the way.
Anxiety is a very common challenge with all children.
Just how do you comfort an anxious child and provide them the important tools they need to deal with anxiety? If you do have a child on the autism spectrum, some of these mental health challenges may be magnified.
Children with autism are prone to sensory overwhelm and meltdown. Sometimes they become socially isolated or have strong feelings that they do not “fit” in.
It can be heart wrenching to see your little one so upset and feel helpless to comfort and soothe them.
This post will give you practical solutions, strategies and tools to help comfort an anxious child.
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Watch your own behaviour and reactions to anxiety
Make sure you do not get upset yourself.
Your children are always watching you closely to observe your reaction and coping mechanisms.
If you get stressed, worried and anxious at the slightest thing, chances are that it will not be long until they are copying you.
Try to ensure that you do not get upset, stressed and worried in front of your kids.
Instead show them what being calm and in control looks like.
Always reinforce how much you love them, and you are proud of them and that everything will be OK.
Gradually introduce some of these coping strategies to give them tools to deal with the inevitable stress and anxiety that will occur along the journey of life.
Here is what does not work to comfort an anxious child:
Telling them “not to worry” never works.
Fixing every problem for them does not help long term
Avoiding every situation that might possibly be stressful does not teach them anything, nor does it build up resilience.
It is important to be mindful that a certain level of anxiety is normal and that an important role of parents, carers or teachers is to help empower our children with tools to deal with anxiety and problem solve.
This can be a challenge especially when we love our kids so much and hate to see them upset.
Here are some helpful tools and strategies to help comfort an anxious child.
Is anxiety normal in children?
We all love to see children smiling, laughing and happy.
Yet, every human experiences anxiety at some point and in certain situations. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and warns us to get ready for imminent danger.
For example if we see a pack of snarling dogs running towards us, anxiety will help us take action, like hide, climb a tree or get out of the way.
Or if we have to make a speech in front of the class, anxiety might help us prepare the speech properly, learn it and practice it, so that we do a good job.
As children grow, they are often experiencing new situations and challenges. They may be unsure, or feel out of control or out of their depth.
Anxiety can become a major problem when it is the prevailing emotion your child feels daily and you notice that your child is anxious in every situation, not just the occasional one.
Excessive anxiety can be crippling and stop your child participating in new games and activities.
It can stop them making friends, going to social gatherings and interfere with learning, eating and disrupt sleep.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 25.1% of children have a lifetime prevalence of an anxiety disorder and 5.9% are severe.
It is very important to teach children that a certain temporary level of anxiety is normal and to be able to teach them coping strategies on how to deal with stress.
Do not be too quick to label a child as “anxious”.
Labels can be so damaging and can start to form part of their identity. Not every child who experience anxiety has an anxiety disorder.
As many of us know, stressful situations continue to occur all the way through adulthood.
Learning coping strategies and calming tools is an important way to deal with stress, anxiety and continue making progress.
For children, it is usually most effective if you can make most of these tools and strategies into a fun game rather than a chore.
Here are some of the best ways to comfort an anxious child that we have seen work wonders:
17 Best Ways To Comfort An Anxious Child
The power of breathing is often under rated in western cultures. Many people do not breathe well and tend to shallow breathe.
If you have panic attacks, you know that your breathing is affected and you cant “get your breath”.
Deep breathing is one of the best tools for calming anxiety. It takes practice.
Teach your child to do daily deep breathing so they are familiar with using it as a tool when they start to feel anxious. They can do it anywhere and anytime.
Deep breathing slows the heart rate, relaxes all the stress receptors, reduces cortisol (the stress hormone) and signals to the brain that there is no need to worry and everything is under control.
One way that often helps children is to picture blowing up a balloon.
They need to do about 10 deep breaths, not blow too fast or too shallow. Breathe in for 3 counts, hold for 3 counts, then breath out for 3 counts.
Have the child picture the balloon, describe the colour and shape of it when it is fully inflated.
For older children, they can visualise that every exhale is blowing their worries away. When they release the balloon, their worries fly away with it.
Go Zen has some great breathing exercises for kids here
2. Meditation to comfort an anxious child
There are many great meditation apps around now.
Meditation is an amazing tool for children. They are very often good at visualising and it helps them get in control of their self talk and their breath.
One that is useful is the “Stop, Breathe and Think App” on the AppStore
Older kids can be introduced to the idea that you are not your feelings.
Feelings will come and go.
Notice them arrive then leave like clouds floating away or trains arriving and leaving a train station.
This feeling will pass- let’s breathe together or count until it goes away.
Here is a great mindfulness meditation for kids.
We advise only using video and apps as a tool. It is best if the teacher or parent does most of the teaching and practice face to face so your child gets the strong message that they are loved and supported.
Do not simply put your child in front of the screen and walk off.
It is best to do the meditation with your child at first to show them this is normal and helpful and that “I’m here for you”
3. Empowering self talk to comfort an anxious child
How we talk to ourselves, is so important. These “voices in our head” run our lives.
We can all improve our self-talk and give ourselves more positive messages.
It is easy to slip into a downward spiral very quickly if we are feeling anxious or depressed and this is left unchecked.
Self talk can very quickly turn negative…
“No one likes me”
“I can’t do anything right”
“I hate school”
First identify your child’s fears.
Identify the anxiety.
Then create powerful counter statements and positive affirmations.
For example “So many people love me to bits”.
Start naming them: mummy and daddy, aunty Sally and Grandma and Mrs Brown at school and my friends Johnny and Clarissa and Sam.
“Most days I love school and playing with the other kids”
“I am talented and funny”
Aim to create a mantra together.
“I can do anything!”,
“I am unstoppable”
“I am a powerful warrior”
“I’ve got this”
“I can do this”
Find a phrase or two that resonates with your child and teach them to say it to themselves throughout the day.
Start to create a mini routine or checklist that they can do when they are aware of increasing anxiety or stress.
Give them a few key phrases they can reinforce to themselves knowing that they have the power to face all their worries.
4. Laughter to comfort an anxious child
Laughter is one of the best tools for reducing stress.
You will know a funny story or silly words or pull a funny face that will have your child in a fit of giggles very quickly…
Help them try to see the funny side, break the tension and bring them to a happy place.
Acknowledge that it’s ok to be scared sometimes but you are here for them and everything will be OK.
5. Exercise and movement
It is well known that exercise and movement releases endorphins and “feel good” hormones. We can all do with more of these in our life!
The effect of these hormones are not just present during the actual exercise but lasts for hours afterwards.
Also if you can find exercise that your child loves to do in a group setting with others, this is even better.
Going for a nature hike with their siblings, running around the park chasing a ball with the other kids, dancing to music in class.
This helps the activities be more fun and introduces an important fun, social aspect too.
If they are at home, you could teach them some simple stretches
Teach them simple exercises like doing 10 star jumps, or skipping rope or jumping on the trampoline.
Being outside in the fresh air helps.
Being with other people helps.
Sometimes it is helpful to go to a quiet place and relax on your own to calm down.
But the worst thing you can allow is your child to spend too much time by themselves in their head with their thoughts swirling around and around.
Do not allow your child to dwell and ruminate by themselves for too long. Instead encourage movement, breathing, imagination, talk, count, play and cuddles.
6. Identify the cause of the anxiety and write it down
To comfort an anxious child, it is very important to identify the fear by name. You could even give it a funny name and talk to it. “Has Ezzy-Fezzy come to visit again?”
Sometimes when your child is “just feeling anxious” and does not know why, they may realise that they are not actually anxious after all.
If there is a legitimate fear, naming the fear can help acknowledge it and lessen the impact.
Some kids love to write.
Write it down, then tear it up and throw it in the bin.
Writing it down can also help your child express their feelings. Some kids prefer to talk, others prefer to write.
As they get older, they may like to keep a journal.
This gives kids a sense of power and control over their fear.
7. Kids yoga to comfort an anxious child
Yoga for children is another tool that has become very popular.
It is easy to use free technology to help.
Some schools also teach the kids yoga.
Yoga helps teach them good breathing control and helps give them “time out” in an active way where they feel an accomplishment.
Here are some great kids yoga videos
8. Hugs to comfort an anxious child
The amazing power of touch is so important and effective.
Physical hugs and deep touch pressure provide immense comfort and release feel good hormones like oxytoxin and reduces the stress hormone cortisol. A long hug helps the feeling of connection, trust and support. A sincere hug is always comforting and calming. While you are hugging your child, tell them their feelings are normal, everything will be Ok and hold them until they relax.
In some cases, your child may relax and want to talk about their concerns and this is a great time to listen, show empathy and give them positive reinforcement. Tell them they are loved, they are safe and nothing bad will happen.
Weighted blankets are an important tool that mimics a long hug and provide comfort for an anxious child. They also give the child a sense of control. The child knows if they are starting to feel overwhelm or anxiety they can curl up with their weighted blanket, do some deep breathing and feel much better.
If your child has trouble sleeping weighted blankets helps comfort them to sleep and helps them to stay asleep through the night.
Without good sleep, feelings of overwhelm and being out of control just escalate. If you cannot get good sleep for many weeks in a row, your coping ability is far less.
Some schools provide access to a chill out room, where children can go to relax, breathe, use weighted blankets and cope with the over stimulation.
During class, weighted lap pads are an amazing tool to simply place on your child’s lap to help them relax, feel calm and stop fidgeting.
These are also really effective to help reduce anxiety when travelling or out at appointments like the dentist, doctors, therapists or hairdresser.
A great way to comfort an anxious child is distraction. If you are out and about, you might use distraction to take their focus off their anxiety and onto a fun task.
For example, “lets count all the people wearing a red shirt?”
“Lets county all the people we can see who are wearing a hat”.
“Lets count all the white cars we can see”.
We have found this technique to be so effective and it works really quickly.
It’s hard to be anxious while your brain is focused on something else.
If your child has a favourite place, help them to settle down by picturing this place where they feel secure. For example, they may love walking on the beach, Help them go there in their mind. Help them use all their senses and describe it to you.
Picture the sound of walking on squeaky sand.
Picture the taste of the salty water and the beautiful smell of the sea air?
Can you see sea gulls?
How many clouds are in the sky?
Are you eating an ice cream? what flavour is it?
You can also get them to picture their thoughts like trains the come and go at the station.
Thoughts are feelings. They also come and go.
They will pass soon.
Or help them imagine that worries are like clouds in the sky that come into vision then float away.
11. Help them create an action plan
If there is a legitimate worry that your child needs helps with, help them to identify the worry.
You can go through an exercise of asking them why they are worried or anxious about it?
What is the worst that can happen?
Sometimes the child will realise through talking about it that nothing bad will actually happen and they will instantly stop being anxious.
Other times, you will be able to develop an action plan together.
This is an important strategy to help them learn to plan ahead and deal with situations that occur.
Teach them to identify the factors which you can control and let the factors that you cannot control go.
You might ask them:
“What do you think the first step should be?”
Eg if it is a spelling test-“let’s plan a time to learn the words”.
I will help you practice and learn them
On the day we will do some deep breathing, remember that you know the words and you will be fine.
Afterwards I will pick you up and we can go and grab your favourite milkshake to celebrate.
Never minimise your child’s fears or laugh them off.
Or tell them “that’s silly”
Your child’s fears are real and big to them.
Take the time to listen, be interested, ask them engaging questions, provide empathy and support.
Do not multi task while listening. Or pretend to listen when scrolling through your phone.
Do not race into providing solutions.
Just acknowledge and ask the gentle questions and encourage them to talk about the feelings and why they feel like this. Encourage them to come up with solutions.
Explain it is normal to be worried or feel anxious sometimes. Share that grown ups also feel anxious or worried sometimes.
Depending on the situation help them to come up with step-by step solutions to the problem.
Or help them to come up with a checklist they can go through when they feel anxious to help calm down.
eg 10 deep breaths, 2 stretches and snuggle up with your weighted blanket for 10 minutes.
13. Other tools
There are many other tools that might help your child focus on another activity and reduce the anxiety. It depends on the age of your child and what they are interested in.
A stress ball helps some people.
Play doh can provide entertainment and creativity for hours.
Some older children like journaling.
Journaling about a stressful event can help your child feel more control and help them get clarity on what they are feeling. The big life journal for kids is a great one to help they improve confidence along the way.
Younger children might prefer colouring books.
Check out Angry Octopus Color Me Happy
14. Power of fragrance
Aromatherapy can be a fantastic tool. It has been tried and tested for hundreds of years.
Many schools, hospitals, therapy centers and clinics are now using fragrance as a permanent tool to reduce anxiety and increase calm.
Essential oils like lavender, chamomile, sage and sandalwood are so good at stimulating calm and centeredness, effortlessly.
This is not woo-woo but has been well researched.
Lavender for example interacts with the neurotransmitter GABA to help quiet the brain and nervous system activity, thus reducing anger and agitation.
Try a few drops in the bath, or dropped onto your pillow or in a diffuser.
15. Create a safe space
If you have room in your house you can dedicate a “safe space” or “chill out room” for your child to go to when they feel overwhelmed or anxious.
You may place in there their favourite toys, their weighted blanket for them to snuggle into to and self soothe. Maybe you have some lavender or sage scent and some soft music.
You may have in their a sensory swing for them to rock back and forth and self-soothe.
16. Chores can install confidence and contribution
If you think that doing everything for your child will make them a strong capable adult, this is not the case.
Children like to have their jobs and feel the accomplishment of contributing.
Give them small tasks to do around the house.
Praise them when they try and when they remember to do it.
This helps to build confidence, a sense of responsibility and achievement.
It also gives you some good behaviour that you can refer to when looking for mini accomplishments and good thing they have done.
17. A family pet can help comfort an anxious child
Sometimes a family will find that a having a pet is a massive tool for reducing stress. Petting the dog or cat is so relaxing.
Even watching a fish swim and blow bubbles is so relaxing.
Some hospitals, dentist clinics, doctors surgeries and therapy centers have fish tanks in the waiting room to help patients relax.
Children with autism often bond very closely to family pets and love helping to look after them.
How long does it take to comfort an anxious child?
It takes as long as it takes.
Many of these techniques, strategies and tools will work right away in the short term.
Over the long term, it takes patience and reinforcement to build skills and good habits.
Your child will go through different stages and need different types of support along the way.
Continue to help them talk, develop good routines and provide oodles of positive reinforcement.
Hopefully you already use some of these tool or strategies to help comfort an anxious child.
Remember even though we have shared the 17 best ways to comfort an anxious child that we have found, you do not need to implement all of these.
Rather look for 2-3 that work best for your child in different situations.
Also as your child grows up , they might resonate with a different strategy as they move through different stages.
Do not ignore their worries or down play them.
These worries are real to your child.
Continue to focus on empowerment and coping strategies.
Remember these need to be practiced and reinforced.
Continue to go back to them and reinforcing that everyone gets anxious some of them time.
They are OK
They are loved and they can handle anything.
Be patient and never give up…
There is no one way. Over time you will learnt the best way to comfort your child and you’ll learn their anxiety triggers.
Continue to set a great example yourself and provide security for your child.
Do you have any other strategies that you find to be helpful?
Please share and let us know