TREATING YOUR CHILD’S ANXIETY NATURALLY
The Signs & Symptoms To Look For & Lifestyle Changes To Help
This year has been stressful for all of us. But it’s easy to forget how our stress affects our kids. Separation anxiety and social anxiety in our kids can easily be brushed off as kids being too sensitive or needing to grow out of their attachment. But when kids are worried or anxious all the time, it might be something more.
It might seem strange, but kids can have anxiety disorders just like adults do. But while an adult might just go to therapy and take prescription meds to help with their problems, it can be harder to find ways to cope with anxious children. So here’s what you need to know about identifying anxiety in your child and finding natural ways to treat it.
Symptoms of Anxiety In Kids
When adults are anxious or stressed, they can identify that feeling and express it to others. But kids usually don’t know that they’re anxious or don’t have the words to tell you about it. So there’s some interpreting work we have to do as parents and care-givers to figure out if anxiety is affecting our little ones.
Here are some signs of anxiety in kids.
- Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs): When kids don’t have good coping mechanisms to deal with their anxiety, they sometimes use their bodies to deal with anxious feelings. This can look like pulling out their hair (including their eyebrows), picking at their skin, biting their nails, or even picking their nose. They might also bite their cheeks or lips, crack their joints frequently, or bite their own skin.
- Panic Attacks: When kids get too overwhelmed with feelings of worry or fear, they can have panic attacks just like adults. If you’re not looking for the signs, this might just look like a tantrum. But pay attention to the cause of your child’s meltdowns, as well as the symptoms. Are they having trouble breathing? Is their heart racing and they get sweaty?
- Separation Anxiety: Do they avoid social interactions with other kids their age? Are they stuck to your side like glue at family events? This might also show up as a fear of simply being alone.
- Easily Startled: Being easily scared, startled, or surprised can actually be a sign of anxiety in both adults and children. Anxiety makes us constantly on the defensive. We always feel like something is wrong, so even little things can be startling.
- Trouble Sleeping: Anxiety is stimulating for our bodies. It makes our heart race, our adrenaline skyrocket, and our breathing uneven. That can translate into trouble sleeping, especially for little kids who don’t know how to self-soothe at bedtime.
- Problems at School: If your kid is usually pretty good in class but suddenly becomes disruptive, it might be a sign of anxiety. This could look like not doing well in group work, struggling to answer when called on by their teacher, disruptive behavior like squirming or talking during class, and not doing homework.
- Tummy Troubles: Kids usually can’t recognize the difference between anxiety and an upset stomach, so if your little one complains of nausea or stomach aches often, it could be a sign.
How To Treat Anxiety In Kids Naturally
When it comes to anxiety in kids, having multiple ways of dealing with and treating their symptoms is key. Whether you opt for therapy and prescription medications or not, it’s important to incorporate other options too, like lifestyle and nutritional changes, stress relief techniques, and natural supplements. Here’s a few ways to help your child manage and overcome their anxiety.
Give Anxiety A Name
Adults might be able to recognize that their anxiety isn’t necessarily reality, but kids have a harder time doing so. For instance, their anxiety might be telling them that the kids at school don’t like them and don’t want to play with them, but in reality, it’s their anxiety talking.
According to Harvard Health, one way to work around this is to “personalize and externalize” your child’s anxiety. First, you and your child can give their anxiety a name, like Peter or Bobo the monster. You can even have them draw what they think it looks like so that it becomes “real” to them. The next time your child’s anxiety acts up, you can help them connect the name that they chose to their anxious feelings. That way they learn that their anxiety doesn’t control them and they can learn to push through those feelings when they need to.
As an adult, it’s easier to change your routine or lifestyle to help you cope better with issues like anxiety. But as parents, we have to make and enforce those decisions for our kids. Here are some ways to set your child up for success when it comes to treating anxiety naturally:
- Make sure they don’t get hungry or thirsty. That might mean always having snacks on hand, carrying a reusable water bottle for your child, or having your doctor write a note to the school so they get extra snack breaks. Researchers have found a link between hunger and mood changes. When our blood sugar drops, our stress hormones rise and this can trigger anxiety.
- Have a routine. For kids it’s important to have a sense of routine. That could mean going to bed and waking up at the same time, or having a consistent after-school routine, for example. And make sure they’re not overwhelmed with activities. It’s important for them to have a break so they’re not overstimulated and exhausted. By setting up a routine, you’ll help your kid feel safer and less stressed since they know what to expect. In fact, researchers have found that both humans and animals are naturally drawn to creating routines because it helps to manage stress.
- Limit screen time. It probably comes as no surprise that too much time spent in front of a computer, phone, TV or tablet screen translates into mental health problems for kids. In fact, after the first hour of screen time per day, each additional hour makes your kid more susceptible to problems like anxiety and depression, according to a 2018 study. So make sure to limit your child’s screen time to just one or two hours a day, not including school work. Instead of playing on a device, encourage your child to play outside, do some arts and crafts, or set up a playdate with a friend.
Be A Good Role Model
Kids are very perceptive. If they notice the adults in their life are always stressed out, they’ll be stressed out too. So if you’re trying to help lower your child’s anxiety, making stress management a family routine.
One way to do this is with meditation. It might be surprising to you, but kids as young as 5 can learn to meditate. It’s a great coping skill to help them deal with anxiety, problems sleeping, anger, focus, and stress that will help them for their entire life.
You can try meditating with your kids for 5 minutes in the morning and at night. When they’re in a comfortable position, focus on deep breathing and building a mind-body connection. Tell them to think of their bellies as a balloon that they should slowly fill up with air until it’s full, and then slowly let the air out. Then whenever they’re feeling anxious, they can fill up their balloon.
You can also try teaching your kid some Pranayama techniques. Pranayama is a type of deep breathing exercise from Ayurvedic medicine that can help kids lower stress levels and elevated heart rate. One way to practice this with kids is to have them fill up the balloon in their belly until it’s super full, and then slowly let the air out while pretending to try and fog up a mirror or window with their breath. This is called Ujjayi in Ayurveda and is great for releasing any tension or worry they have.
Make sure children get enough sleep. This may entail reframing their thoughts about the value of sleep.and how it will make them stronger to fight off that Bobo the monster. Cutting out only one hour of sleep can induce measurable anxiety, so see that they get to bed at a regular time, sufficient for restoration.
For more natural stress-relief tips, check out some of our other blogs here.
As parents and caregivers, we want the best for our children. It can be tough to watch your child struggle with anxiety, but there are tools you can give them that help them overcome these struggles. Try these natural anxiety treatments with your kid the next time they’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed and see just how effective they can be.