Week 2

Anxiety is Future-Focused

Anxiety is all about the what-ifs and mights. You worry about this outcome or that possbility. This is true for younger children, but especially so with teens and adults. An effective way to address anxiety is to pull yourself or your child back into the present. This week’s activities help you accomplish this.

 

Ask Questions to Understand the Anxiety

In the rush to make your kids to feel better, you might tell them not to worry. Instead, when your child — especially a teen — voices anxiety, ask them to help you understand. Investigate their feelings together. If you understand what is causing the anxiety, you can then address the root of their anxiety. If you don’t take the time to inquire and listen, you can’t be as effective. Strive to learn all you can so your child knows you accept what they say as real for them. Try these questions: 

  • Tell me more.
  • Does it happen at certain times more than others?
  • Is there something specific that brings it on?
  • When did this start?
  • How are your friends doing with these kinds of feelings?

 

Activities to Reduce Anxiety (Youngers)

The following activities can be done again and again. Plan to give your child your full attention during this time.

Activity #1: Fresh Fruit

Name (or write a list of) your favorite fruits from your most favorite back to those that are just OK.

Why This Works. This engages your child’s mind to be active in the present time. It also engages your child in writing, an activity that requires both sides of the brain.

Activity #2: Build a Tower

Build the highest tower you can from whatever materials you have on hand for them to use. When it topples down, see if you can build it higher. 

Why This Works. Again with this activity, the goal is to get your child engaged in something physical that is very in-the-moment rather than future-focused. 

Activity 3: Drawing Circles

Have either you or your child draw lots of circles randomly all over a piece of paper.

Have your child name each circle to represent a person in their lives. Remind her to draw one for herself as well.

Have your child use a pen or marker to draw lines to connect the people who know each other.

Why This Works

  1. Instead of worrying about what might happen in the future, you’re allowing your child to focus on who we have in our world right now. And that matters a lot!
  2. If your child doesn’t realize it, point out that the circle that represents him can be connected to every single one of the other circles.  “Wow!  Look how many people you have in your world!

Take It Further

  1. Your child could use another color to connect people who know one another from each place they go (school, church/synagogue/mosque/temple, neighborhood, family). The picture begins to get really full of lines.  “Look how many ways we’re connected!
  2. Now color in the circles to represent kids in one color and adults in another. “How wonderful it is to have people of different ages in our lives!  What are some of the reasons we’re glad to have adults?  What are some of the reasons you love having kids in your pictures?
  3. One more step – invite your child to write or draw a picture to mail to each of these people. If mailing isn’t an option, take a picture of each of your child’s drawings and text it to each person. This helps keep us in the moment.  “What would be fun for Aunt Betsy to receive?  Let’s see, what does she like to do?  Can you do a picture of that for her?
Activity 4: Laugh Together

Watch something fun together. It could be as simple as a short YouTube video.

Why This Works. Laughter has great benefit in lowering some of the biochemistry of worry in our bodies, so keeping laughter in your days in any ways possible will be so helpful, even healthful!

Activity 5: Puzzles and Board Games

Do puzzles or board games together. Make it a set time throughout the week so everyone can look forward to a “Family Date.”

Why This Works. The more concentration something takes, the more it keeps us present. Puzzles and games are the perfect mix of concentration and fun!

Activity #6: Draw People Who Make Them Feel Safe

Invite your child to draw a picture that has all the people in it that help him feel safe, or that she loves. Consider these prompt to get things going:

What do you think each person might be doing right now based on what you know of them?” (Grandma knits, Uncle Jack builds things in his garage….)

Draw a picture or write a note to each person you draw. Send them the note and picture in the mail.

Activity #7: Gratitude Journal

Start a Gratitude Journal. Every day draw one picture that shows something for which you are grateful (both adults and kids). You could publish your book on Mixbook and share the link with people you speak of in your book. 

Why This Works. We know that when we have our minds focused on gratitude, positive physical changes actually occur inside our bodies that lower our blood pressure, calm the nerves, and lower adrenaline.

Activity #8: Tummy Laughter

Have everyone lie down on the floor and put your heads on someone else’s tummy. (If it is just a child and one parent, take turns having your head on the other’s tummy.)  One person begins to laugh, even if it isn’t for real yet.  See if it “catches” and others begin laughing.  Trade to others’ tummies. 

How else can you spawn a quick moment of laughter?

Why This Works.  Laughter brings down the anxiety biochemistry.

Activity #9: Airplane Rides

Give kids airplane rides. Lie on your back, hold their hands, your feet on their lower tummy. While they’re flying, ask what they see on the ground… “Pretend we’re flying from here to school!  What do you see when you look down?”  “Pretend we’re flying over the river.  What do you see in the river?” 

Why This Works. This gets the child paying attention to what is happening in the moment. It also engages their imagination in the best way possible!

Activity #10: When You Were a Baby

Invite your child to the couch with you. 

Curl up in a little ball and lay with your head on my lap. Imagine when you were a baby in my tummy.  What was it like?”  Give them ideas…

Could you see anything yet?”  “You could hear things, though… what could you hear?”  (Voices, music, noises) “Could you smell anything yet?”  “Taste?”  “What could you feel?”  (Warmth, floaty…).

Why This Works. We are remarkably comforted by vivid memories of the past.  In assisted living centers,  studies have found that residents are calmer and happier when the television has black and white re-runs of shows from the 1950s, like Lucille Ball and The Andy Griffith Show.  Think about adapting that concept for your kids of any age.

Take It Further

  1. Then, “Now let me hold you like when you were a little baby” and just have them move up into your arms. “Now you’re a little baby.  I’m holding you and looking and you and loving you.  What do you think you could see when you were a little baby?”  “What could you hear?”  “What could you taste?”  “…smell
  2. Now sit on my knees facing me like you did when you were just 2 or so. How do you think I played with you when you were a toddler?” (Horsey when s/he “rode” on your foot, bounce your knees up and down, talk about how you could lift them up over your head…)
  3. You might end with, “If you could be any age right now, what age would you like to be?” If your child wishes they were young, agree to play that with them for awhile. 
Activity #11: Build a Cave

Create an indoor “cave” using chairs and blankets or whatever, and take all the things that help us feel safe inside the cave. Do this with older kids and read their favorite children’s stories in the cave.

Activities to Reduce Anxiety (Olders)

The following activities can be done again and again. Plan to give your child your full attention during this time.

Activity #1: Stand Together

Sit down on the floor, knees up, feet flat on the floor toes almost touching, facing each other, holding hands… see if you can stand up.

These kinds of quick activities are physical enough that it makes it difficult to keep the worry going in the moment. 

Activity #2: Back to Back

Back-to-back, sit on the floor, link elbows and see if you can stand up.

Why This Works. These kinds of quick activities are physical enough that it makes it difficult to keep the worry going in the moment. It can give a quick break and may offer the chance for you to redirect their thoughts to things that are current. “Help me decide what we should fix for dinner.

Activity #3: Fitness Hour

Schedule a fitness hour into the day. If you don’t have weights to lift, use canned goods!  Work out together. 

Why This Works. Physical exercise is one of the fastest ways to burn off adrenaline.

Activity #4: Take a Walk

Take a walk together. Whether it’s around the block or at a local park that is still open, the fresh air and activity will do wonders for the emotions, too!

Why This Works. Walking is remarkably calming because of how it engages both sides of our brains. Think of dads pacing while moms have babies. They pace because that bilateral movement has a calming effect on the nervous system. So! Walk with those with whom you are in quarantine.

Activity #5: Walk With a Friend

If your teen will truly observe the need for distance, walk across the street from a friend and talk on the phone to one another as you do… talk about what you see from where you are – the shared sunset… geese flying… talking about things that are in this moment.

Be Transparent

Sometimes kids need to know they’re not alone in their anxiety. To the degree that it doesn’t scare them, admit that there are some parts about this that make you feel anxious or uneasy. Share whatever else would be helpful but appropriate. Don’t forget to share what’s working for you, and how you’re coping with your own anxiety.

Prompts for Meaningful Discussion

The following three prompts can be spread out over the week. Plan for at least 15 minutes to have these conversations.

Consider the following model:

  • Have one person read the prompt.
  • Let each person respond to the prompt, speaking uninterrupted as long as needed. (Younger children may need encouragement and questions to keep sharing.)
  • Remind each person to respond to the question, not what anyone else has said.
  • After everyone has spoken, talk about what you learned from each other and about each other. What did you have in common?
  • Make a plan as a family to keep practicing the things you’ve each learned through your family discussion.
Prompt #1: Safe Space

“Share one place that you can go that feels the safest place of all. You might talk about who is there that makes you feel safe, or what you have around you. Talk about anything that describes that safest place.”

Let each person share their thoughts. What did you all have in common? Did someone mention something you hadn’t thought about before?

Concluding Your Conversation: “We can all learn from one another a range of ways to better manage our stress. Today, think about your safe place. If you don’t have one, start thinking about ways you can create one for yourself.”

Prompt #2: Getting Exercise

“What are some of the ways getting enough exercise can be helpful in lowering our stress? What kinds of exercise do you enjoy or are you most willing to do? How does it help? When does it help?”

Did you all enjoy each other’s ideas? Is there anything on the list that would be fun to do together as a family? Maybe each family member could take a turn choosing the day’s activity.

Concluding Your Conversation: “Let’s make a plan to check in each day so we’re encouraging one another to stay active.”

Prompt 3: Learning to Calm Ourselves

“Today we’re going to generate as many ways we can think to self-sooth or calm ourselves down. Let’s start a big list.

Discuss what you had in common, or any ideas you’d like to try for yourself.

Concluding Your Conversation: “Let’s post this list where we can all see it. That way when one of us needs an idea to help us calm down, we have lots of choices”

Rehearse Affirmations

Affirmations can help us focus most of our thoughts on positive things. Try these and then make some with your children!

  • “I feel the fear and I choose to let it go.”
  • “Anxiety might make me feel uncomfortable but I am in charge of my mind and body.”
  • “I have a safe place I can turn to when I’m feeling anxious.”
  • “At this moment, I choose to release my fears about the future and remain present with all the good that surrounds me.”
  • “With each new breath, I inhale strength and exhale fear. I am learning that it is safe for me to heal and grow.”
  • “I control my thoughts; they do not control me.”

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