Let’s welcome back one of our guest bloggers, Kim Martinez, as she dives into the topic of children with anxiety.

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Parental Support of Children with Anxiety

When your child has anxiety, it can very stressful as a parent. Many parents ask me what they can do at home to support what I am working on with their child in their counseling session. I believe that it is most important to not offer advice but to listen when they are sharing their feelings- with no judgment.  

Anxiety is the body’s way of dealing with the need to fight, flight or freeze. The child struggling with anxiety is not trying to worry and feel anxious, they are trying to cope with their body’s need to deal with the “tiger” it thinks it is about to be attacked by. The body doesn’t know the difference between an actual tiger and the fear of being laughed at if you answer a question wrong in class. The body responds the same way to the two different fears.

When a child is anxious, they feel their heart racing; their palms sweating and they feel like they are disappointing themselves and others due to the way they are “acting”.

There are healthy and safe ways to help your child cope with their anxiety.
  1. Work with them on practicing their breathing techniques they learned while in session. Practicing makes it more likely they will use the technique when it they are struggling the most. It will be more like second nature.
  2. Ask your child how you can best support them when they are feeling anxious. They may need a hug, a moment alone or a reminder to use their relaxation techniques. Every child is different and every time they feel anxious may not be the same.
  3. Help your child to create a safe space where they can go to be alone and regulate (effectively manage and respond) to their anxiety.
  4. Have a plan for when you and your child are away from the house and they are struggling to regulate their anxiety. Parents and children often chose a word or phrase the child can use to let the parent know the child is struggling and needs to move away from whatever activity they are engaged in. This way, the child is not embarrassed by their anxiety and the parent can support the child in a way that is predetermined.
  5. Positive feedback about how they handled their anxiety with specific praise will help them feel good about themselves and let them know you have noticed them trying their best.  Criticism and negativity fuel their anxiety so it’s best to use positive feedback.

    Often, anxious children have anxious parents.

    Making sure you are managing your own anxiety is key to a calm household.  Children learn by watching and parents are the greatest models for appropriate behavior. Spending time relaxing after a hard day and letting your child know that is how you handle a hard day at work helps them to understand healthy coping skills.

Stressful Mornings make anxious, stressed out kids

Lynne Kenney, PsyD and Wendy Young, LMSW, BCD write in “Bloom, 50 Things to Say, Think and Do with Anxious, Angry and Over-the-top Kids” that the keys to lowering morning stress are consistency, routine, family needs system, parents teaching how-to’s, getting out of your emotional brain, collaborating with teachers, parents responding to their own childhood chaos, and consistent eating and sleeping routines.

Tips from Kenney and Young:

-Keep things consistent with rules and expectations

-Write down and keep visible the morning routine

-Family needs system is the actual way a family believes things should be done such as how a bathroom is cleaned

-Parents should teach the children the best way to accomplish a task for independence

-The parent or child may need help regulating their emotions in the morning so they can think clearly

-Work with the teacher if your child is struggling with homework so the mornings don’t have an added stressor

-Get help for your own past/childhood traumas or issues so you can parent with less stress

-Have consistent eating and sleeping routines so everyone’s brains are working the best they can

How Play Therapists Can Help Your Child with Anxiety

Credit: Liana Lowenstein’s “Creative CBT Interventions for Children with Anxiety”

1-Cognitive behavioral style therapy may be used

2-Parents will actively participate in collaboration with the therapist

3-Games and art based techniques will be utilized in the playroom

4-Parents coaching children between sessions to use what they have learned

5-Understanding that progress takes time and does not happen on a timeline

6-Lifelong coping skills will be taught

7-Relaxation techniques will be taught

8-Treatment goals will be created specific to your child

Finally…

Recognize that anxiety is real. If a child feels that a parent is belittling or denying the existence of their anxiety, they will try to hide it or minimize it, which will cause the anxiety to grow.  Check with your pediatrician for a respected children’s play therapist near you.

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Kim Martinez

Ms. Martinez is a child and family counselor in Tampa, Florida. She specializes in anxiety, ADHD and divorce/step family issues using art, play, sand tray and creativity in counseling. Kim believes in helping families, children and adults find their “True North”. 

Check out her website at www.yourtruenorthcounseling.com

 

 

Why a white daisy?

Apparently, when people  are asked to draw a flower, the first one that comes to mind for a majority of people is the daisy shape.   This single flower (just the flower part without the stem or any leaves and on a solid black background) was show to study participants after being shown a high-arousal negative image. Examples of high-arousal negative images include awful things like violence, injuries and car crashes.  Two trials were conducted:  in the first subjects were shown a high arousal image and then either a) the flower image b) a mosaic of fragments of the flower image or c) a visual fixation point.  In the second trial, the high arousal image was followed by either a) the flower image, b) a chair (deemed a neutral image) or c) a blue sky with clouds (deemed a positive non-floral image).   Systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings were taken throughout the experiments.  

As expected, mean blood pressure was lower when participants viewed the flower versus the fixation point or the mosaic flower,  but what was unexpected is that the flower image actually reduced mean blood pressure to a level lower than the baseline.  Both the flower image and the blue sky had a similar positive impact in changing mood from negative to positive (with the blue sky having the most overall impact).  However, only the flower (not the sky) caused a reduction in mean blood pressure.  It was determined that viewing a simple flower image could in fact change a negative mood into a more positive one and also decrease blood pressure. 

The power of the single flower image was then studied in regards to salivary cortisol levels.  During this study, the high-arousal images were once again paired with the flower image, the flower fragment mosaic or the fixation point.  Once again, only the flower image was shown to significantly decrease stress during the recovery phase. One final examination looked at fMRI images of the brain during these conditions.  Through this imagery it was discovered that the flower image was effective in decreasing the amygdala-hippocampus activation that occurred after viewing the high arousal images. Researchers speculated that the flower image was a distraction tool that was helped prevent the recall of the stressful images.  

The brief viewing of this single flower image was shown to be effective at reducing negative emotions and created better functioning of both the cardiovascular and endocrine systems! Having such a simple tool available to help reduce stress and regulate unpleasant emotions and is one possible tool for interrupting ruminating thoughts or unpleasant flashbacks.  

About the Author Kristyn Buchanan

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at info@jentaylorplaytherapy.com

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