Helping an anxious kid
March 7, 2015 11:12 AM   Subscribe

What are good strategies for helping an anxious first or second grader deal with their anxiety.
posted by drezdn to Human Relations (11 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Can you elaborate a little on what anxiety means for this child? Are they fearful, obsessed with perfection, concerned about things out of their control, or are their worries manifesting in some other way?

Additionally, how long has this child been feeling this way? Did it start when they went to school for the first time, or after a big life changing event like a move or a divorce?

The more details you can offer, the more we can help you pinpoint viable strategies to get this kiddo feeling tip top again. :)
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:30 PM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really, really recommend this book for parents to work through with kids:What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide. It is just the right age level, very straight forward and full of practical advice. Helped my kid immensely and two years after we read it he still uses the techniques he learned.

If I had to choose the single most important piece of advice, it's that worries are like tomato plants: the more we pay attention to them (talking about the same worry over and over, for instance) the stronger they grow. Our rule now is that we can talk about the worry once or twice, after that, we put it away in our mental worry box and focus on something else. We can talk about it at "worry time", but until then, the worry has to stay in the box. The book has many, many other hints and techniques, but this is just to give you an example.
posted by Ausamor at 1:27 PM on March 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

I came here to suggest just that same book. It is a good place to start for both the kid and the parents (it's best if they read it first and help their child work through the excercises there).
posted by CrazyLemonade at 1:54 PM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

My sister has a puberty-aged girl with a lot of anxiety and she got the book plus went to see a therapist herself. Instead of taking the child directly to therapy, she asked the therapist for some suggestions on what could be done at home and school first. The therapist was really helpful and it didn't add any extra anxiety to the child as it was not her (the girl) who had to go to the appointments.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 1:57 PM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

My child is anxious in school. When she was really struggling, I had her take a picture of a place she found relaxing (Myrtle Falls at Mt. Ranier) and tape it to the inside of her school binder. That helped.

If your child is anxious and fidgety, maybe a sensory seat cushion or necklace would help.

Meditations are good, too. I believe that there are podcasts with meditations geared towards kids out there. The Meditation Oasis one has a couple of episodes geared towards kids.
posted by Ostara at 2:22 PM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

When our little guy was having a lot of trouble with anxiety in second grade, we took him to a therapist who used the coping cat protocol with him. Over the course of several months, he was able to deal with his fears using this method. They started with the least scary things and worked their way through to the biggest fears. It was really helpful.
posted by tuesdayschild at 3:31 PM on March 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I posted this Ask about a slightly younger kid recently, but a lot of the responses are applicable to older kids.

A thing that's been really helpful has been to encourage him to label the feeling and reason for it, and to work on a whole bunch of self-soothing techniques and talk about what worked in a calm time afterwards. My son tends to be a mess before he talks about what's eating at him; other friends of his who tend to ruminate wouldn't find this so handy.

Soothing techniques that work for us include focusing on the feeling in his toes or fingers (breath stresses him out; it's harder for him to control), jumping up and down, asking someone he trusts for a hug.

We've also spent a little time at the beginning and end of every day talking about what tricks we might want to use, what worked before, and celebrating the mistakes we learned from. Increasing the amount of cuddling time has helped too, and giving him attention when he asks for it. He's still pretty sensitive but his behavior has improved a bit and the way he describes himself has changed an amazing amount for it not having been that long.
posted by tchemgrrl at 3:50 PM on March 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

I liked Freeing Your Child From Anxiety by Tamar Chansky. The main insight (although I don't like the terminology she uses) is that you have a "smart brain" that understands reality, and a "worry brain" that is constantly catastrophizing. When your worry brain starts taking over, you need to make it quiet down so that your smart brain can take charge again. And you can do this by asking yourself questions like -- is this bad thing really likely to happen? Has the bad thing ever happened before? What really is likely to happen?
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:54 PM on March 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just came on to say I had maybe mild anxiety (I was a timid child) and my parents made it much worse by letting me get out of anything and everything that made me anxious. It basically reinforced my avoidance complex so much that it became a huge struggle later in life not to avoid anything I found unpleasant. So the key is not to reinforce his anxiety by letting him avoid too many unpleasant things that trigger it. These are learning opportunities for him.

There's a graph to explain how anxiety works. (This one is more about performance but it's similar). It's okay to push a child to a certain point so that he can learn not to let his anxiety control him and even use it to his benefit, but there's a certain point--the mid point on the graph, after which it's time to stop pushing him, because then real anxiety kicks in. Your therapist will be able to help him figure out what his optimal arousal level is (which is what that point is called).

Maybe let him know that that feeling in his stomach that makes him want to avoid something is actually his friend and it's telling him that something fun and interesting is about to happen. Or maybe he can make friends with that funny feeling in him. Ask him to describe it, write about it, draw a picture of it, really get to know it so he can recognize it and start to gain some control over it.

Keep in mind that his point of optimal arousal will be lower than yours and maybe other kids his age. That means you can't use your own sense of "optimal arousal" or that of other kids to gauge his. And pushing him past that optimal point will cause anxiety (see curve). The important thing is to make sure he confronts his anxiety, gets to know it, and doesn't let it rule his life.

I can to this day feel the rush of pleasure--like a sugar high--at getting to 'avoid' doing something that makes me anxious.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 6:30 PM on March 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

I work at a therapeutic high school and one of my kids has OCD, so I have some experience with this. While learning various calming strategies are good, it's best to discover the why. Is it social? Recess can be very hard figuring out who to play with, what to do, understanding the social pecking order and trying to have fun. Is it academic? Is material being presented in ways he doesn't understand? Is the teacher mean to him or just loud? Is the actual school setting overstimulating? Is he coming down with something and his anxiety is flaring up?

If you can update with why his anxiety has increased, I can give more specific advice.
posted by kinetic at 8:03 AM on March 8, 2015

Sports and exercise. Seriously. Doesn't matter what sport or what exercise. Give them something they can master.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:08 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

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