Today’s guest blog by Erin Haddock, owner of Five Keys Yoga, explains how to help your child with anxiety using mindfulness tools.
Everyone knows the feeling – your heart pounds, your stomach flips, and you start getting sweaty. No one enjoys the feelings of anxiety and it’s even harder to watch your child struggle with them. But with the right perspective, experiencing anxiety can be an opportunity to meet and rise above a challenge. Yoga and mindfulness are powerful stress relievers. Here is a process I enjoy using during anxious moments.
Honor the Anxiety
Like all feelings, anxiety serves an important purpose. It can alert us to when things are dangerous, when we are pushing past our limits, or if something just doesn’t “feel right”. Therefore, it’s important to honor your child’s feelings of anxiety as useful information and only then assist her in soothing its unpleasant effects. Ask your child what she is anxious about and why she is anxious about it. Get down to the root fear that your child is experiencing. For example, if your child is nervous to go to school, perhaps she is worried about sitting alone at lunchtime. She is anxious about sitting alone because she is afraid she won’t have friends. She is worried about not having friends because she is afraid she is unlikable.
Address the “unlikable” part. Ask her if she really feels that is a true, intrinsic quality she possesses. Then bolster her self-esteem with some examples of how she is likable: she had lots of friends last year or get along great with her cousins or the neighbor next door is always asking her to play. Give her as many reasons to feel confident as possible. Encourage her to think of her own examples. Then, bring it all home. What friend-making strategies have worked for her before? How can she implement those strategies in this situation?
Finally, have your child either draw a picture or write (or both) about her root fear. Ask her how she feels about her artwork. Does it represent who she really is? Next, have her draw or write about the opposite, positive quality and then reflect on it with her. What would it look like to embody this quality? How would it feel? It is very powerful for parents to do this exercise thinking of their own fears, with their child. This will help the child to realize that anxiety is a normal feeling that we all have to work through. Post your child’s positive quality artwork where she will see it everyday, such as the bathroom mirror or next to her bed. Teaching your child to be mindful through difficult emotions is one of the most empowering gifts you can give her.
Deep Breathing Techniques
Now that you have confronted and questioned the anxiety and its root fear, work on releasing the tension that has built up in the body. Start with five deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Now shift so that you are breathing in and out through only the nose. See if you can lengthen the exhalation by a few seconds, without strain. Continue for five to ten breaths. Have your child imagine negative thoughts and the anxiety leaving her body as she exhales and calm feelings and positive thoughts filling her body as she inhales.
With older children, you can also introduce a technique called alternate nostril breathing. Alternate nostril breathing may balance the “fight or flight” part of the brain with the “rest and digest” part. It is also a very soothing practice. To practice alternate nostril breathing, inhale and then gently plug the right nostril and breathe out the left. Inhale through the left nostril. Switch, so that the left nostril is plugged and the right is unplugged. Exhale through the right nostril and then inhale. Switch nostrils, exhaling through the left, and so on. The pattern is exhale, inhale, switch. This can be practiced for upwards of ten minutes, though just a minute or two of alternate nostril breathing can relax the body. Make sure that throughout the practice, the breath is smooth and slow and your child is not straining. If this is too difficult, return to the simple deep breathing, as above.
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