the zach girls

Teaching Children To Cope With Anxiety

Anxiety, Not Just For Adults Anymore

I don’t know about you, but I was an anxious child. I can recall easily as a young child that queasy, tight feeling in my stomach. The feeling of my head racing and having a hard time to find the right words. I’ve worked over many years (with much help) to quiet that anxious voice, know when I need to reach out for extra assistance and let worry have it’s say when it’s warranted without letting panic dominate my thoughts and existence.

As much as I can recall my own feelings, I’ll never forget the first time I saw worry and anxiety in my toddler’s eyes. As fearless, dynamic, and spunky as the kid is, she would worry if her daddy made it to work, or if it got dark, why wasn’t he home yet. She would ask me throughout the day which of her uncles were working, and who was at home. She’d worry if the moon knew she was going to bed or if the moon missed her. Huge worries for an itty-bitty being. And once we saw that creeping in, I realized the devil I’ve been dealing with my whole life, had crept it’s way into my child’s mind. So, my husband and I started to research, and through trial and error, we’ve found some strong tools that have made a massive everyday difference. 

Per usual, I didn’t rub some essential oil on her feet, or rub her down with a norwex cloth to cut down on these behaviors. I will give you some direct links to products, or ideas to ponder, and some are affiliate links. But, as usual, if you decide to use my links or not, I’m just glad you’re here for the conversation. 

Routine

I am that classical example of “I love routine, until it gets mundane. Then I love spontaneity until I become anxious, then I love routine again.” Well, we’ve found that if there’s one tool that’s help bring down the anxiety for our 2 year old, it’s having a solid routine. Obviously, as a mother, let alone of multiple children, routine is hard. Some days, you have to go pick up tabs right before nap time. Sometimes, the doctor’s appointment is before breakfast and you’ve got to eat a chewy bar and smoothie on the go. So, we like to divide our days into blocks. Kind of like how you’d handle a college schedule. I’ve got a block of time to fit things into, the block system means that she knows what’s coming next, even if it’s slightly deviated from the day before. I started out with the Whole Family Rhythms approach. (If you haven’t read that post, it’s here.) And while it deeply effects our meal times and mornings, we’ve tweaked it to a block schedule approach. A sample is this:

  • 8-10am: wake up, dressed, changed, breakfast, morning tidy
  • 10am-1pm: lunch, errands, quiet playtime, outdoor adventures, or art
  • 1-3pm: quiet time or naps
  • 3-5pm: playtime indoors or outdoors, screen time for 30-60 minutes if be.
  • 5-7pm: husband usually gets home, family play time, dinner, tidy play rooms
  • 7-8pm: prepare for bed, bedtime routine, kids in beds.

Now, that said, this of course will deviate. For instance, once a week we have therapy appointments that are at 2pm. In that case we do naps on the way home and take a quieter approach to the rest of the evening. 

Daily rhythms and routines can mean a million things to a million people. The idea though, is that if you haven’t found one that works for you yet, it’s worth pursuing. Just keep in mind, that just when you get a grip on it, more than likely, it will need to flex as your family grows through seasons. 

Mindfulness

Oh, if only I could just put my toddler in a yoga class and have them walk away with meditating techniques. It’s just not that simple for us with a 2 year old. But, certain concepts are completely within reach with the right approach.

For example, a “body scan” is so helpful for anyone going through an anxiety attack, to gain awareness of one’s own body for meditation, or to calm down for nap or bedtime. The problem? Body scan’s aren’t exactly a great time for a toddler. Our favorite bridge to this came with a character book by the brand Slumberkins. (You can find their website here.) It effectively talks children through tensing and relaxing muscle groups from their feet to their head. It’s become a staple part of our bedtime routine. It’s always the last book we read before kisses and lights out. Bonus is that there is a matching character stuffed toy for a child to bond with if that’s your kid’s kind of thing. 

Another book by the same brand is following Alpaca. Alpaca is about identifying worries and anxieties and allowing someone else to help you carry the weight of them. While it is a bit intricate for a toddler to grasp, the story line is beautiful with poetry that my child was quick to memorize. It also includes a beautiful mantra at the end of the book which my toddler adores. A link to the Alpaca line is here

Love Languages Matter

If you’ve been in a relationship for any amount of time (or in any Christian groups at all), I’m sure you’ve heard about the 5 Love Languages when it comes to how you need to be loved and how your partner needs to be loved in order to have a deeper and more specific connection. What we don’t think about though, is that our children also have ways their “cup” is filled quicker than others. The 5 Love Languages as discussed by author Gary Chapman are Physical Touch, Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Receiving Gifts, and Quality Time. We quickly discovered with our eldest that Quality Time and Physical Touch mean far more to her than receiving gifts or any act of service. She needs to know that if she desires, we will make time for hugs, snuggles, and we will stop the hustle of the day and connect with her on her level. So, to overfill that cup, we’ve worked to have more one on one time with her, and I make sure during her sister’s nap times to get on her level or be in her presence whenever possible. Even if it’s only 5 minutes. I also try to greet her when she wakes with a big hug, and I let her decide when to break the embrace. I’m not perfect, and some days, it doesn’t happen. But, that’s exactly why it’s vital that when you do have the opportunity to overfill a cup, you do so. So that when things are a little leaner another day, they’re not at a complete deficit. If you’re interested in reading this book (it’s a fantastic audio-book as well!) the print copy of the parenting edition of the 5 Love Languages can be found here. The audio-book can be found here. In my opinion, the audio book is one of the best $11 I have spent as a parent.

When More Is Needed

And then sometimes, you start to get into the territory where kids are having a hard time settling, whether it’s due to sensory dysfunctions, general anxiety, or other neurological disorders. And in that case, it’s nice to try a few products that are created to give their little body some feedback that they are safe, calm, and ready to focus. We use a weighted body wrap for exactly that purpose. It sits in her bed for nap and bedtime. Otherwise, it’s hard for her “legs to go to sleep too” as she tells us. A fantastic resource if you’re looking in to weighted items for children is the National Autism Resources Corp. They’ve been around since 2008, and know their stuff when it comes to sensory and neurological assisting technologies. Over the last year or so, we’ve done a lot of purchasing from general retailers, and it’s a bit of a black hole to go down. Firstly, you don’t know if the items are made well for the insane prices they’re listed at. Secondly, there’s no one to guide you through if the weights are appropriate for the age, size, and weight of your child. I’ve been so pleased with the variety of products they offer. Don’t let the name of their company put you off if your child isn’t on the spectrum. I’ve found quality toys and resources on their sites for a multitude of needs. If you have a friend or family member who is on the spectrum or has sensory processing disorder you can definitely find a valuable gift for a birthday or holiday if you’re lost for what they would actually use. Or, I’d suggest a gift card so they can put it towards a large purchase. If you do decide to use my link, know that I’m happy to partner with National Autism Resources Corp on this post and that it is an affiliate link. Using my link helps support my blog, but there will be no additional cost for this. I’ll link below a few of my favorite products for weighted items. 

Weighted Body WrapGreat entry item into weighted blankets for either in their bed, or with carseats on the go. Please remember to use weighted blankets responsibly and never with children who will put them over their head. Also, make sure to verify that the weight isn’t too heavy for your child. 

Huggy Bear Weighted Backpack, Does your kiddo love to pile stuff on their back? Or bury themself under a pile of toys? This may be a good fit for them. For those that need weighted input while playing, this is a discreet way to get that feedback they are craving while having arms free to play. 

Soothing Vibrating Roll, Vibration can be an incredible tool for little bodies that can’t calm down. We like to use vibration when our child is overstimulated or is having a hard time with tactile items (like her clothing). This roll is the perfect size to snuggle with or to lay on while playing or napping. 

I hope you found at least one tool to try if you have an anxious little one at home. It can feel so isolating when your child is dealing with such gigantic problems. But, know that you’re not alone, and neither is your little one. 

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