This is a time of year when lots of kids and teens come in expressing feelings of worry and anxiousness as the new school year begins. New teachers, new layout, new friends – not to mention old homework, old lunch menu and old bullies.
As parents, we wish we could shield our youngsters from life’s worrisome moments, but navigating anxiety is an essential life skill that will service them in the years to come. We wanted to share with you 5 phrases that might help your child/teen identify, accept, and work through anxious feelings and set them on the road to mastering BIG feelings!
1. “I love you. You are safe.”
Being told that you are safe by the person that you love the most in the world is a powerful affirmation. Remember, anxiety makes us feel as if our minds and bodies are in danger. Repeating that they are safe can soothe the nervous system.
2. “Let’s go play catch.”
Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American Psychologist, is best known for his research into something he calls “FLOW.” The idea behind his theory is that the nervous system can only process so much information at a time and repetitive tasks such as playing catch, kicking a soccer ball back and forth, or knitting actually trick the nervous system into focusing on the task rather than the stressor.
3. “How big is your worry? Let’s see if we can make it smaller.”
Quantifying anxiety in terms of size is much more effective for young children than a number scale. Figuring out the size of a worry can also help align the size of the reaction (which is sometimes a bit mismatched). A worry the size of a mouse can be put in an imaginary cage. A worry the size of a tree can be “chopped down” using your child’s imagination.
4. “You will not feel this way forever.”
It is so easy for kids, and ESPECIALLY teens, to think that anxiety will last, at its current level, for the rest of their lives. In reality, anxiety tends to be changeable. Reassuring your young person that their anxiety will fade helps remind them that they will feel normal again one day.
5. “Let’s count _______.”
This mindfulness technique requires no advance preparation. Counting the number of people wearing sneakers, the number of kids in the room, or closing your eyes and verbally recounting the layout of the space are all ways to bring the mind away from the ‘feeling center’ and back into the ‘thinking center’.
Adapted from ideas shared by Go Zen at www.gozen.com.