Calming Your Child's Anxious Mind
The world we live in today can be very stressful not only for adults, but also for children and adolescents. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about 1 in 10 children suffer from an anxiety disorder and according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (AADA) anxiety is the most common issue for children and adolescents today. Whether it's worrying about fitting in with the cool group at school, mounting pressure about needing to get perfect grades, or a major life event, anxiety can be a major problem and impact their everyday activities. What can you look out for and what can you do?
Anxiety in children and adolescents may experience problems physically complaining of a stomach ache, headache, or having diarrhea. Or maybe they've been having trouble sleeping, eating food, or paying attention. You might notice them becoming more irritable or avoiding wanting to do things like go to school or be involved in family activities.
For over 25 years Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D., an Educational Psychologist, has been specializing in giving children and adolescents tools to work with worry, anxiety, fear, and pain supporting and empowering them through difficult times. In an article in the Alternative Journal of Nursing, Dr. Reznick writes about the power of using a child's imagination for healing. One foundational technique she describes is an imagery technique that teaches the child or adolescent the balloon breath to help calm the body and mind.
In doing this practice she suggests breathing slowly and deeply into the belly focusing attention a couple inches below the belly button to help center and calm a child (an adult too). She provides a sample transcript:
Sample Script: The Balloon Breath
"Let's take a few minutes to be aware of your breathing. Put your hands over your belly so you can notice your breath going there. That's right. Breathe slowly, about two to three inches just below your belly button, so your belly rises and falls as you breathe in and out. Good. Let's breathe in even slower, to the count of one ... two ... three. Now, breathe out just as slowly ... one ... two ... three.
Repeat until comfortable, practice 1-3 minutes each session, several times a day."
She also brings in the idea of having them do this balloon breath and then bringing in imagery. Bring them through imagining things with their five senses. What do they smell, hear, feel, see, and taste? This power of imagination can help calm the nervous system and bring the child back to center. She notes that you don't need any special training to do this with a child, simply your sincerity and respect for the child will make it come through.
If we can help children and adolescents gain the skills to become more centered and grounded at an early age, we may be able to prevent for pervasive issues down the road and empower them to lead successful and happy lives.
As always, please share your comments and questions below. Your additions provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
phantom belly ache - Rachael - Sep 20th 2009
My child is 8, she has a slight case of ADD is very emotional, and is a middle child. For the last few weeks she has developed a tummy ache in class and wants to come home all the time. The teacher is aware that it is in her head, I have tried the bubbles and also getting her to imagine a stop sign, then think about the beach or something nice, but it is still happening... have you any other suggestions??
LCPC and RN - anne sheetz - Apr 23rd 2009
In addition to the deep abdominal breathing described here, I use bubbles for adults and children to practice this technique. While breathing in through their nose to a count of 3-4 and out through pursed lips to a count of 3-4, I ask them to blow as large of bubbles as they can using kid bubbles. If they have slow, abdominal breathing, they will blow big bubbles and if thoracic shallow fast breathing, the bubbles will be small and pop fast. This is an immediate reinforcer for correct breathing and fun too.Anne sheetz, LCPC, RN, MA, MSAllegany Counseling and Consulting ServicesCumberland, Md 21502