Relaaaaaax! Managing Children’s Anxiety with Mindfulness Techniques

According to the Children’s Society, there has been a 50% increase in mental health issues over the past three years, with an estimated one in six children aged 5-16 years suffering with a mental health problem.

Anxiety is one of the more common mental health issues experienced by children. In young children, the symptoms of anxiety can result in difficulty sleeping, nightmares or starting to wet the bed, as well as tearful, irritable and clingy behaviour. And in older children, they may have angry outbursts, lack confidence in trying new things, have problems eating and sleeping, or get caught up in negative thought patterns.

Recognising that your child is feeling anxious can be concerning, but teaching them mindfulness techniques is a wonderful way to help your children manage their anxiety and find calm. Helping your child to practise mindfulness can teach your child how to self-regulate their emotions, relax and help them to gain focus and control in stressful situations.

The basic concept of mindfulness is to become aware and take notice of yourself and your surroundings. It is simply noticing what is happening right now. It gives you time to stop, to think and make sense of things.

Research has shown that practising mindfulness with your child can have numerous positive outcomes from helping with self-regulation, to improving resilience and even impacting school grades. Some of the effects of mindfulness practice can impact the child in later life and actually change how our brains work.

You can bring these mindfulness practices into your daily life with your child:

  • Pick a time. Morning wake-up or bedtime are ideal opportunities to practise some mindful meditation. A calm start to the day can really set up a child for the day ahead. It also gives you some opportune time to spend quietly together. There are a number of free child meditation apps that can guide you through.
  • Don’t jump in when there are tantrums. Soothe and support. Always calm your child first. Then ask what is going on. To make sure you understand, repeat back to them what they tell you. Then ask what they think the solution is. A child will be much more onboard if they are part of the solution.
  • A handy activity is to use a glass jar and get a child to add water and glitter. Get the child to shake the jar and see how the glitter swirls around, ask them to describe what is happening to the glitter. Explain that this is what it is like when feelings are out of control. Put the jar on the ground and wait for the glitter to settle, then explain this is what we need to do when our feeling is out of control. We need to be still and take time to settle too.
  • Try to slow things down. Be mindful that your children will sometimes find transitions hard. Take time to ask their opinion and what they think, or what they would do in certain situations.
  • Notice their mood. If you pick up on your child’s mood, express that to them. Increasing a child’s language around feelings helps them to express themselves and be mindful. So, for example when your child is tired when out and about you can acknowledge it with “I can see you are really exhausted, but we just have five more minutes’ walk and we will be home”.
  • Practising breathing techniques can be really helpful. Teaching conscious breathing in and out, and fast and slow, can help your child relax and unwind.
  • Notice their surroundings and explore senses. When out, ask your child to describe the setting- in the park ask questions like, what do you see? What can you hear? What can you smell?
  • Remember young children may have short attention spans; however, when practised regularly, a child will become more open to mindfulness practices and they will become second nature. These skills will not only become part of your family routine, but they will be lifelong skills imbedded in their growing brains making them more resilient and ready to take on the stresses of life.