10 Better Ways to Help an Anxious Child Calm Down

10 Better Ways to Help an Anxious Child Calm Down

Ever been at a loss as to how to help your child when he/she is anxious?

For example:

  • A child arrives at a birthday party excited but becomes too worried to walk through the door
  • A child runs out of the doctor’s office as the nurse approaches with a needle/shot
  • A child refuses to get out of the car when he/she doesn’t know anyone at a new camp or activity
  • A child feels nauseous about performing on stage, trying out for an activity, or taking a test
  • A child is terrified that they will be injured by a storm or tornado.

It may seem like nothing you say or do helps.

When kids are anxious, they often experience a fight, flight, or freeze (acute stress) response, which is a physiological reaction in response to something they perceive as scary. The body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated, triggering the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline, which increases heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. After the threat is gone, it takes 20-60 minutes for the body to return to normal levels.

Some kids experience anxiety more than others. About 15-20% of kids are born with a more anxious temperament (the amygdala part of their brains are more reactive to novel stimuli from the start).

Anxious kids may scream, shake, run away, be especially quiet, act silly, hide, cling, have tantrums, or act out to avoid a stressful environment or event.

At times, parents make the mistake of trying to reason with kids or talk them out of their fears (without first addressing the acute physiological factors at play). They may say things like “calm down,” “stop crying,” or “try to be brave now.” Because anxiety can look like defiance or acting out (e.g. running out of the room), parents may even punish anxious kids or give them time-outs.

However, brain research suggests that it’s extremely difficult (if not impossible) for kids to think with logic or control their behavior until they step out of fight/flight/freeze mode.

Here are 10 science-based ways parents can gently help children calm down, regain a sense of safety, and manage their anxiety.

1. Stimulate the Vagus Nerve

Stimulating your child’s vagus nerve (located on both sides of the voice box) can interrupt fight or flight mode and send a signal to his/her brain that “he/she is not under attack”.

curaJOY Contributor
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