The following content may contain affiliate links. When you click and shop the links, we receive a commission.
Almost everyone I know has had anxiety creep up in one form or another during this time of self-isolation and quarantine. Not only have our routines completely changed, but so have our relationships, the ways we engage with one another, and in most cases, or economic forecast for the year. We also are dealing with the overwhelming stress and anxiety of dealing with an “invisible” virus that has made us or loved ones sick..and in some cases, we have even dealt with the anger, pain, and confusion of losing friends and loved ones to this new illness – and not being able to be there with or for them the way we should be. These are tough, tough times in so many ways, and it’s totally normal for even the strongest among us to be overwhelmed. So what about the children who are trying to make sense of all of this, when we can’t even make sense of it for ourselves?
Marlowe was doing really well with our “new normal” (if you can even call it that) until about a week ago. All of a sudden she hit a wall with all of this, and her anxiety came on really strong. I will preface this all by saying that she really has never been an anxious kid before, even in the wake of our divorce. She’s had feelings about all of it, for sure, but never that “roaming” brand of anxiety that can land on something and grow roots. About a week ago, Marlowe started getting stomach aches, waking up at night with nightmares, and feeling all kinds of intrusive, “worry thoughts” about everything from scary characters in movies, to fear of COVID-19 and the possibility of dying. It started off with a nervous tummy ache now and then, and then has escalated to her being concerned that every ache and pain is evidence that she has to go to the hospital or that something is really wrong. If pressed for more feelings beyond that, she shares the heartbreaking thoughts she’s having about death, dying, and the uncertainty of the world around her. It’s absolutely excruciating to watch my easy, breezy, fun-loving and giggly girl be so worried and preoccupied.
I had been sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop this entire time, as it’s obviously so far from normal for our kids to be living life this way for nearly two months now. But, now that I’m dealing with my child’s unique brand of anxiety (I think anxiety expresses itself in all of us in varying ways), it’s so complicated and hard to know exactly how to approach her and how to help her. What works for me with my anxiety, hasn’t exactly worked for her, and things that don’t always work for me have been helping her make some baby steps with it.
I thought I would share some methods we have been using as well as some that were recommended to me when I posted about her anxiety on Instagram this week. Watching my daughter struggle with something that I can’t instantly take away has been so hard for me, and it’s been a real lesson in slowing down, focusing my attention on my sweet girl, and allowing her to show and teach me exactly what she needs right now. I know, from talking to other girlfriends with kids, that so many other children are going through similar feelings right now– and that our restrictions on where we can go and how we can cope with these feelings are making it really hard for parents to combat the anxiety for them. I would love to hear your own experiences with your kids’ worries or anxieties so that you can add your voice to the community and help others who might need even more suggestions. Thank you in advance!
Anxiety Coping Mechanisms For Kids
1. Worry Airplanes
I’ll start with the method that has been the most effective for Marlowe! After hearing some specific “scenarios” that were really worrying Marlowe, I sat down with her to do a little exercise. On a blank sheet of paper, she drew the worry for me in great detail. We talked about what the worry was (there was everything from her getting sick with COVID-19 and dying, to a scary snake she saw in a nature documentary a few months ago) and then I watched and asked her questions about it while she drew. Once she was finished with the picture, we decided to either cover the image with hearts (for the worries that involved people or things we love) or with X’s (for the nasty, scary things we want to never think about again). We covered the images with all different colored hearts or X’s. Then I folded each Worry Page in to a paper airplane! We went out on to our porch together, said a little prayer while holding the airplane, and then she launched it right off the porch “so the wind can carry that worry to outer space”. I explained to her that the most important thing for her to do is to share her worries with a grown up like me or her dad, so that we can carry that worry for her and that she can think about happy easy things that kids deserve to think about. She loved this exercise and I noticed a big difference that day!
2. Breathing Exercises
I have used a couple of different meditation apps to do kid-centric, guided breathing exercises with Marlowe. I will say that they didn’t hold her attention that well, but overall they helped us open the convo around deep breathing and mindfulness. I come back to these deep breaths with her when she’s having a particularly hard moment, and I find that it helps. The way that works the best for us is if I hold her on my lap, or lay beside her, and breathe with her so that she can piggyback off of my breath. Otherwise, I find that she doesn’t hold out her exhales as long or take as deep breaths.
One method sans app you can try: Have your child lay down and put their hand on their belly. Have them slowly breathe in for three seconds through their nose, feeling their belly expand like a balloon. Ask them to imagine their balloon to have a certain color and shape. Maybe it’s a heart balloon or a happy star! Then have them exhale for five seconds through their mouth, slowly, and imagine their balloon deflating again. Repeat this five or six times, or for up to a minute.
3. Fact Checking
A lot of Marlowe’s worries had to do with fears that are absolutely improbable. One by one, we went through and really addressed each and every one of them. We even got on a digital FaceTime session with one of her Pediatricians so Marlowe could ask questions about her health and body, and put her fears to rest. Now if she brings up fears that were addressed by her doctor, I remind her that it’s her doctor’s job to keep her healthy and that her doctor isn’t worried about her at all.
4. Q&A about COVID-19
I had told our pediatrician how confused I was by Marlowe’s recent worries about contracting the virus, since we really haven’t had the news on or been talking much about it in front of her on purpose. Our doctor said this approach may have backfired! Because we hadn’t had an in-depth Q&A with her about COVID-19, her mind was racing to come up with information and facts on its own, and lots of it was scarier and more confusing than it needed to be. I asked her if she had questions, answered them as best I could, and I also showed both of my kids this Town Hall that Sesame Street did with CNN. They both liked hearing the opinions of doctors addressing the concerns of some of her favorite characters.
5. Lavender Essential Oil
I’ve been using Lavender Essential oil in a diffuser in Marlowe and Major’s room at night – and it’s been really helping to calm her down and help her sleep recently. Plus, she loves the subtle light it lets off. Almost like an extra night light!
6. Good Old Fashioned Empathy
Sometimes, Marlowe just can’t get certain worries out of her head. I sit with her, hug her so tight, and tell her how sorry I am that she’s so upset and so worried. I ask her to tell me exactly how she’s feeling, and I just listen. Then I look her right in the eye and tell her how much I love her, that I’m always here for her, and that she’s OK. Sometimes we all need somebody to listen without trying to offer their solution!
When I reached out to my online community for help, people suggested several different books for helping kids cope with anxiety. I’m linking them here!
- “Freeing Your Child From Anxiety” by Tamar Chansky
- Scholastic.com Corona Virus Workbook
- “What To Do When You Worry Too Much” by Dawn Huebner, PhD
- “In My Heart: A Book Of Feelings” by Jo Witek
- “Hey Awesome!” By Karen Young
- “You Are A Gardener” Book and blog
- “The Way I Feel” by Janan Cain
- “Ruby’s Worry” by Tom Percival
I’m so sorry to hear Marlowe is having a tough time with anxiety! I know that’s not easy on you guys either. You’re a fantastic mom and I’ve loved following your journey.
I loved the breathing exercises you mentioned. One thing I use is “square” breathing. You inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4 and repeat. With each 4 second hold you can draw a line in the air with your finger or in your mind to look like a box. The dance teacher in me also wants to say doing a box step repeatedly can be totally zen as long as you don’t get dizzy! Maybe that kind of counting or visualization can help. I personally need to be a little more mentally engaged when my anxiety is up.
I know she loves music. When I was younger I used to sing to myself when I scared. (Thanks for the idea, Julie Andrews.) My go to song ended up being Close to You by The Carpenters. LoL Having her sing her favorite song might be a nice go to if she has a nightmare and needs to calm down.
When I was a kid I used to randomly get this almost paralyzing fear I was gonna die. I thought for sure there was no way I was going to wake up again if I went to sleep and sometimes I’d cry myself to sleep. I didn’t tell anyone about it until well into my twenties. I got most of my anxiety as a kid at night, so I found sound also helped me if that’s a thing for her. Maybe like a sound machine. The lavender is a fantastic move!
All the best to you all! ♡
Thank you so much for these insights, Amber! I am so grateful xo
This is such a tough part of this situation. My 3 year old is happy to be home doing fun activities but my older two kids blow up at least once a day.I have to immediately walk them back from their flareups and also keep it together myself. It is something I have to be so conscious of. I try so hard not to make the situation worse no matter how overwhelming. I have to take it flareup by flareup and just try and get them to a comfortable place. It does seem like sometimes they getting some screaming and crying out is what they needed. The other hard part is dropping everything and focusing on the one kid that is flaring up. Just opening they only act up one at a time.
When my kids started this I asked them if they knew why they were home. My 8 year old said because people were getting sick. I said a good way to make sure we are feeling well is to take our temperature every day. Their temps get taken every morning and they ask at different times to have it taken again. It seems tecnhical but it lets them know know that their bodies are fine. I feel so much better doing that and it is a small way to feel like you are on top of things.
The other thing I have started doing is using an oximeter that checks the oxygen in your blood. Oximeters are sold out everywhere but I found an app that tests the oxygen by having you put your finger on the camera. It tells you if your oxygen levels in the blood are normal. I read covid positive patients were testing their oxygen levels this way. A pedometer app I have tests the oximeter, heart rate, pulse.
Its technical and to be honest I find myself checking temps and using the oximeter often but I find its a concrete scientific way to show the kids whats going on in their bodies and explain that we are checking on them and keeping them safe.
We can only do our best! Hang in there Mama! xo
Sorry to hear Marlowe’s having a tough time recently. I can completely relate as my 5 year old has always been an anxious kid and this has hit her pretty hard too.
She was already working with a councillor to help with some extreme shyness so when all this started I asked her for help and was given some great advice. The councillor suggested kids breathing yoga which has now become a daily morning ritual for us as a family. A great one we found online was Cosmic Kids Yoga and we’ve also found some great breathing/yoga picture books that give a little extra reminder to breathe during the day. Since we’ve started this several weeks ago, I’ve noticed that my daughter has implemented breathing techniques on her own when she is upset, frustrated, sad, etc.. pretty cool to see such progress made in such a short time.
She also suggested having a “worry box” that can be filled by anyone in the family, stuffed animals or dolls (via the child), and then to have a designated time each day to talk through any worries anyone had. This really helped open my daughter up and stop her from holding in all her feelings.
We also noticed she is overall less anxious when outside so we’ve been trying to spend loads of time outdoors.
The biggest relief to her came when she had a drive-by birthday party a few days ago and got to see a bunch of friends and relatives.
On the other hand, it also backfired for a few of her friends who started crying when they had to drive away so I guess that depends on the kid.
I hope someone finds these suggestions helpful too. I’m definitely going to keep that airplane one in mind. Thank you for opening up about this issue at a time when it feels like mental health is taking a backseat.
Best to your whole family!
Thank you so much for sharing these insights, and I’m sorry to hear you’re going through it as well. Hope you’re hanging in there mama!
Under the book recommendations for anxiety and such is the Tom Percival book actually Ruby Finds a worry?