One of the saddest things in our lives is the overwhelming number of children who experience anxiety. I seriously feel like every child has some level of anxiety these days. I don’t know why, but we certainly need to help our youth deal with these complex issues.
While there is certainly no one-size fits all solution, there are a few things that I would recommend that we, as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, and friends can do to support our children.
1. Validate Feelings and Reach Out for Help
When a child is feeling anxiety (or any other feeling), try not to downplay it and tell them they have nothing to worry about. Instead, ask them directly what they are feeling and ask them to try to explain it to you. They will then feel heard, understood, and safer in knowing that someone cares.
We now, thankfully, have wonderful counselors in our schools and even more in our community. Reach out to your child’s school counselor and ask them to check in with your child. You can also access the Mental Health and Community Resources page on the Eagle County School District website and/or the Eagle Valley Behavioral Health website www.evbh.org for a list of practitioners that specialize in children. I firmly believe that engaging a professional therapist is an important part of teaching children that it is ok to ask for help when they need it. It can also be life-saving. Give your child this gift!
2. Encourage Mindfulness
It is well studied that mindfulness practices can help calm anxiety. We know that practicing gratitude and being present is a skill that helps keep us calm. A few simple ideas are to practice a nightly meditation with your kids (there are many geared towards children, like the wonderful Headspace app), start each day with listing off things you are grateful for, and practice sitting in silence listening to nature around you.
Taking the time to rest and relax without the constant distractions of life is not only great for anxiety, it is an important life skill.
3. Teach Calming Techniques
Aside from mindfulness, one of the greatest tools that we have to calm ourselves down is our own breath. Breathing can switch you from operating in the Sympathetic fight or flight mode into the Parasympathetic rest and digest mode (from stressed to relaxed).
You can use a blowing out the candles trick by having your child hold up both hands with their fingers spread out. Have them imagine that each finger is a candle that they have to blow out. They have to take a big breath in and a big breath out to blow out the flame.
Another technique is to teach them box breathing, where you breathe in to the count of 5, hold it for the count of 5, breathe out to the count of 5, and hold it for the count of 5. Have them keep repeating the box until they feel calm.
4. Calming Herbs
There are some lovely, gentle herbs that can safely be used for children with anxiety. Chamomile, a well known herbal tea, is great for calming anxiety, soothing an upset stomach and headaches. Passionflower is a nice herb for improving mood, calming anxiety, and helping promote sleep. You can serve passionflower as a tea, alone or combined with chamomile.
I also love Rescue Remedy, a Bach Flower Essence combination to help with nervousness and stress. It comes in a liquid that can be dropped into the mouth or a pastille, or candy-like lozenge that can be sucked on. It is so gentle and effective.
5. Mind the Gut
Finally, I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence without reminding you that there is a vital gut-brain connection that influences our mood and our nervous system. The all-important microbiome must be tended in every case of anxiety. This means avoiding processed foods, which hurt the microbiome, and giving children lots of whole foods that are high in fiber (fruits and vegetables), that feed the healthy bacteria in the gut. Probiotics and fermented foods should be a part of the daily regimen of health, and make sure to avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary.
With these tactics (and many more), we give our kids a chance to escape the torture of mental health problems. Our little ones need our help, let’s do our best to provide it for them.