Childhood – a word that conjures up feelings of carefree play and whimsical make-believe, not typically uncertainty and anxiety. But in reality, feeling anxious is a real part of kids’ day-to-day lives just as it is our own. In fact, anxiety rates among teens are rising, which is no surprise given the pressures kids face today. With pressures from social media, difficult academics, and now a global pandemic, it is easy to understand why children may struggle to maintain their mental health. How can we support our kids in maintaining their mental health as they adjust to new routines?
For me, having a toolkit of coping mechanisms at the ready helps me to knock out my feelings of unease and worry. Techniques for handling anxiety vary from person to person, and kids may need guidance in finding what works for them. So, I gathered some of my favorite activities to use with kids when anxiety levels start to interfere with their mood. Maybe one of these approaches can be added to your family’s toolkit for tackling anxiety.
1) Nature Mandala
Working with mandalas assists with relaxation and meditation. Typically circular in design with symbolic patterns, mandalas originate from the religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. Creating a nature mandala may alleviate stress and help kids connect with nature, plus they look beautiful! Follow these tips to get started:
- As you walk around outside, collect any pieces of nature that you feel drawn to. Look for elements that make you happy or colors that please you.
- Lay the pieces you gathered in a circular pattern. If you want, you may want to first organize what you collected by color or size. There is no right or wrong in how you create, or what your final product looks like.
- As you assemble your patterns, think about how each element of nature inspired you on your walk. Also consider, could each piece of the mandala symbolize something in your life?
- Don’t forget to display your masterpiece! Leave it in a place for a neighbor to see, maybe inspiring them to create their own! Or, take a photo of your mandala and share it with a family member from afar.
2) Take Note of the World Around You
Sometimes I wish my brain had a “reset” button, so I could clear out all the irrational thoughts that cause me anxiety. This activity helps banish those toxic thoughts. If kids start to feel overly emotional and stressed, taking note of their surroundings helps them stay grounded (Clemer). By using their senses to make lists (verbally, mentally, or written), kids will connect with the world around them and escape negative feelings. A couple of ideas for employing this strategy follow below:
- Get outside! Have kids notice 5 things they can see, hear, smell, or feel (such as the warm sun).
- Make it a game! Give one point for each item they share with you or their siblings, and two points if they came up with a completely unique item. Or, who can create the longest list?
- Remind your child this is a tool they can use at any time, even on their own.
A traditional maze includes choices, dead ends, and possibly multiple solutions, while a labyrinth contains one path leading to the center and back again. Labyrinths have been used for meditation for thousands of years (“Learn About Labyrinths”). Children can use labyrinths to practice mindfulness and reflection. Also, they are fun to create! Below are several ways to use labyrinths with children:
- Draw a finger labyrinth. Instead of walking the labyrinth, use a finger from your non-dominant hand to trace the path. Go slowly and breathe deeply. Add stopping points to your path for reflection. If children need additional guidance, tell them to pause and think of something that makes them happy, or to stop and take a deep breath.
- Design a chalk labyrinth outside. The combination of fresh air, movement, and mindfulness effectively inspires feelings of positivity.
- Creating a labyrinth is part of the fun, but if you need something less time consuming, the Labyrinth Society shares printable labyrinths and other great resources.
4) Practice Gratitude
The benefits of practicing gratitude include increased happiness, optimism, and even better relationships with those around you (“5 Scientific Facts that Prove Gratitude is Good for You”). Simply creating gratitude routines with your children leads to more positive thinking. Ideas for incorporating gratitude in your day-to-day activities include:
- At dinner, everyone shares something that made them smile during the day
- Using sticky notes (or something similar) choose a spot in the house and create a gratitude wall. Each day, or whenever something happy occurs, your kids write a gratitude statement (I am thankful for…, I am happier now because…, I appreciate…) and add it to the wall.
- Before bed, encourage your children to record something that makes them feel grateful in a journal. Going to bed with happier thoughts = better sleep!
5) Acts of Kindness
Like practicing gratitude, intentionally completing acts of kindness for others reduces feelings of anxiety (“How Acts of Kindness Can Ease Your Social Anxiety”). You don’t even need to leave the house! Challenge your kids to complete three random acts of kindness throughout the day for other family members. Give your children three rubber bands (or hair ties, bracelets, etc..) to wear on their right arm. After they complete a “secret” act of kindness, they may move the rubber band to their other wrist. The goal is to move all three rubber bands! At dinner, everyone shares their acts of kindness. To make it even more fun, try guessing what each family member did before their big reveal!
No matter what method you choose to combat anxiety, let your kids know that feeling anxious is completely normal. Recognizing our different emotions helps us to deal with them properly. Hopefully, you found a new tool from this list that will support your family when anxiety levels are running high.
Is there an additional activity that you would like to see added to this list? Share in the comments below!
- Clemer, Christina. “Ease Your Anxious Child: 6 Simple Mindfulness Exercises to Try Today.” Motherly, Motherly, 11 July 2018, www.mother.ly/child/ease-your-anxious-child-6-simple-mindfulness-exercises-to-try-today.
- “How Acts of Kindness Can Ease Your Social Anxiety.” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 19 Feb. 2020, health.clevelandclinic.org/acts-kindness-can-ease-social-anxiety/.
- “Learn About Labyrinths.” The Labyrinth Society: The Labyrinth Society: Learn about Labyrinths, labyrinthsociety.org/about-labyrinths.