Resources to help a child self-soothe.
September 25, 2018 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for child-friendly resources to help an elementary schooler learn to center herself and break out of an anxiety spiral.

My child suffers from nervous stomach.
Periodically she gets feelings of need to go to the bathroom, urge to vomit, sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, etc.

These episodes are generally quite short, often on the approach to school or practice, and disappear almost immediately when something else presents itself, i.e., she sees a friend at school or practice starts.

Her school is aware of this and will accommodate by letting her go outside until she is calmed.

I am looking for age-appropriate (3rd/4th/5th grade) techniques that she can use to help bring herself back to center that are better than my standard "Take a deep breath and count to 10".
Maybe a mantra she could repeat or a song to sing while she is outside the classroom or on the way to practice.

Also, age-appropriate media that deals with this issue.
Something she can read and identify with. Is there a "Smile" for kids with anxiety?
A book with a female protagonist would be ideal but "Zen for the playground" would work as well.
She is more likely to read a graphic novel than a text-heavy book.
Movies and TV are also welcome, or even websites with exercises she can do.

Basically, I'm trying to expand her toolbox so she can get a handle on episodes before they spiral and so she can walk herself back if they do.

(This would be a perfect question for a new "Parenting and Children" Category.)
posted by madajb to Human Relations (14 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I have my kid do some "explosive action" on the theory that the body has worked up to a fight-or-flight response and you want to tell the body that you did the fighting, so let's ramp down now, thank you very much. In the car (because otherwise it might be embarrassing?) some really forceful shadowboxing, or outdoors, a fast sprint to a pole and back, jumping jacks, burpees.

Another tool is counted breathing: four seconds inhale, four seconds exhale, for at least five cycles.

Another tool is to list all the things that are good about the thing that we're about to do, all the things we appreciate about it, all the good reasons to do it.

A good mantra is, "I can handle whatever comes up."
posted by xo at 11:51 AM on September 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

My similarly aged kid had a few sessions with a child psychologist. It helped a lot! She recommended the book “taming your worry dragons”, which has a workbook as well as picture book. It’s a book developed through the BC children’s hospital.

If you or your insurance can afford it, even 2 sessions with a child psychologist or play therapist can help kids develop a toolkit. I wish I’d had that when I was a kid, instead of my irrational anxiety being a family joke.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 12:01 PM on September 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

There are some nice audio mindfulness exercises for kids available here. Even if she can't whip out an ipod right when she's getting anxious, listening to them at other times might give her some tools for helping herself feel more in control.
posted by adiabatic at 12:10 PM on September 25, 2018

Smiling Mind is a mindfulness app for kids. Thank you for looking into this! I needed just such a thing when I was a kid.
posted by 8603 at 12:36 PM on September 25, 2018

My sister-in-law, a teacher, has her kids hold their hand in front of their face. Then slowly, finger by finger breathe in to smell the flowers, then in the opposite direction blow out the candles. Three or four repeats of this helps settle the anxiety.
posted by Enid Lareg at 12:42 PM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

There's a popular app called Calm I'm a huge fan of. It has both meditations and bedtime stories. I'm not a fan of meditation but I love the bedtime stories. I knew there are bedtime stories for kids so I just checked and there are also meditations for kids that are a few minutes long and include belly breathing. It would be free for all of the teachers in your school!
posted by DarlingBri at 1:41 PM on September 25, 2018

Here Comes a Thought from Steven Universe is more or less a mindfulness song for kids, though it doesn't explicitly call itself that. No show context necessary to understand the song, though I do recommend Steven Universe as well.
posted by ActionPopulated at 1:58 PM on September 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

Try Anxiety Canada’s tools for kids - I linked to one but there are a bunch there. You’re not alone!
posted by warriorqueen at 2:08 PM on September 25, 2018

P.S we did our own cognitive coping cards and put them on a key ring that went in a jacket pocket.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:09 PM on September 25, 2018

I may have mentioned this before but sometimes when my son is feeling stressed, we look at cute animals on Reddit. We have an account that's just for that: all those funny, adorable creatures and their antics. It works for me, too! There are dozens of them. I have the NSFW filter turned on just to be extra-safe, but we don't subscribe to anything other than fun goofy stuff on that account. It's so simple and it doesn't feel like a treatment or remedy or something that is obviously meant to deflect a mood (which is good because children sometimes come to resent obvious attempts to channel them into some other mood or behavior, which is what happened when we tried a meditation app more than a few times).
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:19 PM on September 25, 2018

Definite yes to fidget toys and jewelry! I recently found the very cool Stimtastic site which sells chewable and fidget jewelry that looks very cute and charming.

That said, I also want to note that this was me at 9/10 and I was diagnosed with this initially but it turned out to be pretty severe lactose intolerance, so it might be worth making sure it's not GI-related. I know this may be a bit off-topic, but doctors are very quick to dismiss women and girls' physical symptoms as anxiety so it's become a bit of a soapbox for me.
posted by capricorn at 5:40 PM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

What to do when you worry too much was a wonderful resource for my anxious 3rd grader. We read through it together initially but he also will pick it up on his own sometimes. Lots of good age-appropriate strategies and discussions.
posted by Empidonax at 9:17 PM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's possible the nervous stomach is actually a physical ailment. Hunger, food allergies, dehydration, post nasal drip, environmental allergies, vitamin deficiencies, IBS, scoliosis---there are a lot of reasons a person can have stomach issues.

There's a ton of recent research about how even minor scoliosis affects digestion, causing what often feels like a nervous tummy, when in fact, it's because more and more kids sit for SO long, their spines are shifting, causing digestive issues. Interesting sidenote--there's a strong correlation between eating disorders and scoliosis---if you can help get the back into proper alignment, the food issues disappear.

Anyway, I'd get her checked by a doctor to rule out anything physical.

If she's all good, then I would get her a deck of cards and teach her to slowly flip them, naming the color, suit and number for about 10 seconds until she's feeling better. The theory is a brain can't have an emotional response like anxiety and simultaneously do something actively logical. Force the brain to count and name colors, it can't be anxious. It works for my students.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:40 AM on September 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Are you in the US and in a public school? If so, then quite frankly, she may be able to get more at school if you have her evaluated. This level of anxiety is interfering with her access to education if she needs to go into the hall to calm down. I'd highly recommend going through the Individualized Education Plan process and seeing if she qualifies for adjustment counseling services through school and/or any adjustment counseling groups at school that may help her more than just "going out into the hall to calm down by yourself."

If you happen to be in Massachusetts, I can point you into all the right directions to get this started.

But honestly, assuming everything checks out with her physically, then you absolutely can and should push for more from the school.
posted by zizzle at 6:56 AM on September 26, 2018

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