Breathe, exercise, be body-aware: anti-anxiety tips for children

John Sharry continues his series on dealing with anxiety. If you have a parenting query, send your question to health@irishtimes.com

Deep breaths: Simple breathing techniques such as counting slowly as you breathe can work well for children. Photograph: iStock

Deep breaths: Simple breathing techniques such as counting slowly as you breathe can work well for children. Photograph: iStock

 

In previous articles in the series, I emphasised the importance of responding in a calm way to your child’s anxiety. In this article we look at how you can teach children to relax themselves when they experience worry and anxiety.

Getting in touch with the body

Generally, a key feature of problematic anxiety is that the child is out of touch with their body. They are often living too much in their heads (which are full of anxiety-laden thoughts, ruminations and worries). Frequently, the goal is to help them “get out of their heads” and live more in their bodies; you want them to stop over-thinking and to start living. Sometimes, anxiety is caused by the mind misunderstanding the body’s basic signals as in the case of a panic attack. For example, an anxious teen might notice their heart breathing faster, causing them to worry that they are having a heart attack which, in turn, causes their heart to beat even faster and so the anxiety escalates.

Learning to relax in the face of anxiety

Encouraging body awareness

Physical exercise and relaxation

Breathing and relaxation

Mindfulness and meditation

Positive visualisation

Tips for going forward Take time to think of what relaxation techniques might work for your children.

Remember, all techniques are best practised as a daily habit, so they can be drawn upon in crisis or peak of anxiety.

There are lots of classes that teach children relaxation skills either directly such as yoga or indirectly such as sports training. Make sure your child is involved in some of these.

Many of these relaxation skills are now is integrated into teaching in schools (teaching mindfulness or relaxing to music). Check with your children’s school what might be available.

Dr John Sharry is a social worker and psychotherapist and co-developer of the Parents Plus programmes. He will delivering a talk on Promoting Positive Self-Esteem in Children in Kilkenny on Monday, March 20th, and in Dublin on Wednesday, May 10th, and a workshop on Parenting Young Children in Cork on Saturday,, April 1st. See solutiontalk.ie for details. The fifth article in the six-part series will look at how parents can help children challenge the negative thoughts underpinning their anxiety.

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