Category Archives: anxiety

Kids and anxiety

I was recently talking with a teenager that I volunteer with at Mostly Mutts, a local shelter for dogs.  In the course of our conversation, she told me that she is home schooled because she “has anxiety.”  What does it mean when we think and talk about anxiety this way?

When we talk about anxiety as something that we “have”, much like we might say we have blond hair or blue eyes, we are saying that it is something we have little control over.  At best it becomes something that we somehow caught like a cold or the chickenpox. And the trouble with that view of anxiety is that it becomes a condition that we just need to live with or treat until it goes away as mysteriously as it appeared.

In actuality all of our emotions are feelings in our body that we create based on our thoughts.  This is true of positive and negative feelings.  Sometimes these thoughts are so ingrained that they are practically unconscious.  Sometimes  they are either so common in society or in our minds that we accept them without question as the truth or  the  only way to believe or think.

But the good news is that with enough effort and insight we can unearth the message that is creating any feeling.  Once we understand the message or thought process we can change that process so that we can change the feeling.  I think you would agree that this is not only worth the effort, but also a much better plan than learning to live with fear or anxiety through various coping strategies or medication that numbs our feelings.

Here’s how to teach kids to challenge and change feelings:

  • Become an observer— Take the time to evaluate a situation where the response is anxiety or fear.  Ask the questions:
    • What happened?  “The teacher announced a test on Friday.”
    • What did you tell yourself about the situation? “I don’t understand the material.  I always do badly on tests.  I’m not ready.  I’ll probably fail…”
    • How did you feel?  “Worried, nervous, afraid, anxious…”
  • Challenge your thoughts– argue with them, make them prove themselves, be the devils’ advocate, don’t accept thoughts as the truth
    • “I understand a lot of the material and I can learn the rest by Friday.”
    • “I don’t always do badly on tests.  I have made some really good grades on tests.”
    • “I’m not ready… yet.  I know how to study and prepare for a test and and I can do it.  I have the time and the ability.”
    • “I won’t fail if I put forth enough effort.”
  • Create a plan— don’t just change your thoughts, change your actions based on your thoughts.  Plan to do what is necessary to be your best self and put forth your best effort.
    • “I’ll study 30 minutes every night”
    • “I’ll finish reading the assignment and doing the extra work.”
    • “I’ll ask for help on the things I don’t understand.”
  • Be vigilant and stay in control of your thoughts and your actions in order to stay in control of your feelings— It’s hard to stay anxious when we are occupied with other things.  Stay on track with the plan.  Keep working on it and reminding yourself that you are in charge of your thoughts.
  • Be patient and give yourself time–The thoughts that create anxiety have had a lot of practice and repetition.  It will take some time to replace them but eventually the new way of thinking will become the new habit.

 

Related Posts:

Teaching kids to manage feelings

3 ways to teach kids to tackle anxiety

Is your child a people pleaser?

 

End of School Year Special

Get all 7 Wyatt story books:

Wyatt Goes to Kindergarten

Wyatt Learns about Being Organized

Wyatt Learns about Winning

Wyatt Learns about Cooperation

Wyatt Learns about Friendship 

Wyatt Learns about Good Manners 

AND

Wyatt’s Book of Lesson Plans, Activities and Games

A $110 value for $95 (includes shipping)

 


 

Three ways to tackle anxiety among children

There is no question that anxiety among children (and adults for that matter) is on the rise. When I first began school counseling over 20+ years ago it was rare to have a child referred for anxiety.  By the time I left the field three years ago, I was running a regular group for students with anxiety. One startling report indicates that the average high school student today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950’s!

Professionals speculate on the reasons for this turn of events.  Here are a few of the reasons…

Why children are more anxious than ever

  • Despite technology, we are more socially disconnected than ever– families split up, move apart and participate less in social or religious organizations. In many cases, “connecting on our devices” has replaced in person meetings and socializing. Because kids don’t have a close knit home base, they often feel a lack of support from a network of significant others.
  • Our expectations are higher than ever-Consequently there is more pressure to perform and more dissatisfaction  if those expectations are not met.  Kids expect to have the latest technology, attend the best school,  make the best grades, make the team on the first try, score the most points and wear the latest fashion.
  •  We are more informed than ever and constantly inundated with bad news-from the latest natural disaster to the local crime scene to  the demise of public figures, kids are flooded with negativity 24 hours a day via news channels and the internet. All of this leads kids to anticipate danger and feel on edge all the time.

What can we do to decrease anxiety among children?

  • Set reasonable expectations and help children recognize the process of achievement.  Children need to recognize that achieving goals involves effort, struggle and often failure before there is success.  Teach resources for coping with the disappointments that can arise while celebrating the wins.
  • Create an oasis of support in your family and through significant groups that you may belong to.  Provide a safe environment where children can voice concerns. Acknowledge all feelings, positive and negative rather than brushing them off or providing a distraction. Instead teach coping techniques such as mindfulness or relaxation.
  • Share news events especially bad news with restraint and in consideration of the child’s age and ability to understand the circumstances.  Monitor their reactions and provide ways to contribute to a positive result such as collecting food or clothing or volunteering.  Teach children that they can make a difference in the world through their efforts.

Related posts:

Take charge of test anxiety

4 Surprising Ways to Raise Happy Kids

Stressed Out?

Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Friendship

It’s not easy being the new kid at school, especially if you are a cat and everyone else is a dog.  How do you make friends?  Can you even be friends with someone who is totally different from you?  Wyatt the Wonder Dog helps solve Ami’s friendship problem with empathy and compassion. A great story for teaching children the critical life skill of making friends.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog-Friendship Cover (1)

Wyatt Learns about Friendship

6 steps to take charge of test anxiety

As the school year winds down, anxiety ramps up.  There is anxiety over completing projects. There is anxiety over passing to the next grade.  But most of all there is anxiety over testing.

The best way to eliminate test anxiety, is to put testing in it’s proper perspective.  In an education world where testing, test scores and data have taken on a life of it’s own, this is a difficult thing to do.  The purpose of tests is to provide information; information on what an individual student has learned and what they have not learned so that future teaching can begin from that point.

Instead tests are used to evaluate and assess teachers and even entire schools as to whether or not they are missing the mark.  Because so much is at stake, this increases everyone’s anxiety and this emotion gets passed on to students.

Parents as well can increase anxiety by putting too much emphasis on testing, rather than on the learning experience itself.  A student who values and is engaged in the learning process throughout the year will naturally be prepared for doing well on a test.  Excessive focus on tests as a gateway to the future, whether passing to the next grade or admission to the college of their dreams can create undue stress.

Given that despite our best efforts, children may become stressed out over upcoming testing, what are the best ways to deal with anxiety when it rears it’s ugly head?  Here are 5 tips to to help a child take charge of his feelings.

  1. First and foremost acknowledge the feeling rather than brushing it off or providing a distraction.  Instead of, “Don’t worry.  You are so smart, you’ll do fine.”  Try, “You are worried about passing the test?  Tell me about that.” Help the child identify how he knows he is worried both physically (heart beating faster, shallow breathing for instance) and mentally (I keep thinking about not passing, blanking out answers etc.)
  2. Create an positive image of who the child wants to be going into the situation.
    1. “I want to be calm and confident.”
    2. “I want to be focused and know the answers to the test.”
  3. Teach some simple breathing skills to calm down the physical symptoms, so he can begin working on the mental skills.  Point out how calming the breathing, calms the body.  An easy one is box breathing:
    1. Breathe in for 4 counts
    2. Hold for 4 counts
    3. Breathe out for 4 counts
    4. Hold for 4 counts
    5. Repeat
  4. Identify and challenge the thoughts that are creating the anxiety by providing a different thought pattern to replace the anxiety producing thoughts.  Creating a simple repeatable phrase that the child can learn and repeat when they feel the worry starting is helpful.  Instead of thinking “what if”  change the thought to “what is”.  For example instead of thinking “What if I get the test and don’t know any answers?”, change the thought to “I’ve worked hard all year and I choose to be calm and confident of my ability.”
  5. Create a plan that the child can follow on his own:  “Whenever I notice I am getting stressed out, I will:
    1. Remember my positive outcome: Who I want to be.  How I want to feel.
    2. Stop and breathe
    3. Repeat my phrase
  6. Check in to make sure the plan is working and tweak the plan  if it is not.  Create a positive expectation that the anxiety is something that the child can be in charge of rather than something to avoid.

Related posts:

5 Steps to Raising Up a Confident Kid

Stressed Out?  An Unconventional Cure

Teaching Kids How to Handle Emotion

Wyatt’s Little Book of Lesson Plans, Worksheets and Games

Just for you!  Here are activities, lesson plans, discussion questions, coloring sheets, word search puzzles and games for each of the six Wyatt the Wonder Dog Books.  Over 75 pages of ideas so that you can create lessons on cooperation, teamwork and leadership skills to quickly extend and incorporate the Wyatt stories.

 

                     

http://wyatthewonderdog.com/activitybook