I don’t know how many of you remember watching this very popular TV show “Wonder Years”. The opening credits of the show truly depicted childhood as the wonder years, but that is certainly not true, and most certainly not at this time.
Kids don’t have it as easy as they once used to…
Today, children, once they get to the stage where they begin to understand the world and the people around them, are constantly subjected to negativity; they are perpetually exposed to stressors. And if adults have such a hard time dealing with these dark aspects of life, imagine what a kid goes through.
Their sheer helplessness and their mental and physical inability to deal with the stressors often leaves them with just one recourse- Acting up. Unfortunately, parents often misinterpret the unruliness as lack of discipline or a self-entitled attitude.
Yes, there are times when that is exactly what it is. However, there are other times and scenarios in which the behavior is simply a desperate cry for help. And that is when-
Scolding your child or even disciplinary action may not help!
In fact, it makes it harder for your child to develop the skills of dealing with his/her own emotions. Grounding exercise for children are an effective and positive approach to teach your kids to handle and deal with stress and negative emotions.
Actually, if you start them early, you can help them to build remarkable coping skills and mental resilience which will serve them for the rest of their lives. So, continue reading to know everything there is to using grounding techniques for kids. But first, let’s talk about-
What Causes Kids To Suffer From Anxiety?
In the five years from 2013 to 2018, anxiety disorder diagnoses among children and teens increased by a massive 17%. Nearly 2 in 20 American kids and youngsters suffer from anxiety, with the highest occurrence rate in the age group of 13 to 17 years.
And here is the shocker- If the trends so far are anything to go by, our kids are in for a very rough ride in the future. So, why exactly is anxiety such a big concern? I will answer that with the words of another parent- “Anxiety is the road to hell!”
Mental health experts unanimously call anxiety, “The gateway to other mental disorders”. So, it comes as no surprise that nearly 80% kids who suffer from depression also suffer from anxiety and nearly 40% kids with anxiety also have behavioral problems.
So, is it safe to conclude that shielding children from anxiety is the solution to the mental health nightmare that our kids are likely to walk into?
I wish it were that straightforward. The problem with anxiety is that it is a ubiquitous discomfort and like all other discomforts, shielding your child from anxiety will not help.
If anything, keeping them away from the small inconveniences and the harsh realities of life will make them all the more susceptible to anxiety.
Instead, helping them to learn how to cope with anxiety is the way to win this battle. Now, in children anxiety can be brought on by a multitude of factors. Sure, I could stand up and blame it on uncomfortable changes, easy access to the internet, smart phones and everything else out there.
But, these are all pseudo factors. The clear and core factors number in single digits and only include:
- Parents who continue to accommodate their child’s fear instead of teaching their child to cope with it.
- Helicopter parenting.
- Overly anxious parents or parents who themselves suffer from mental health related problems
- Child abuse.
- Death of a loved one.
- Extraordinary change in the way of life that the child knows and is used to (think rags to riches here and not something as small as going from one city/school or house to the other).
- Severe and chronic health problems (these have to be diagnosed and not just in the head; I know parents who carry a plastic bag on their person wherever they go because their child lives in perpetual fear of bringing up his last meal, although he does not have any medical condition that is or could make him sick)
- Lack of sleep, exercise, socialization.
- Nutritional deficits.
Whether your child’s anxiety is attributed to a pseudo or real factor, if your kid is feeling the jitters, even if he is too young to express the physical feeling of them, you will see the signs of anxiety if you watch closely.
Anxiety clearly announces its arrival, but you may not hear it!
The problem with the symptoms of anxiety (as discussed above) is that they are often confused with behavioral issues. In some cases, the signs are so subtle that you may not notice them at all at first. But, you have the greatest chance of winning against childhood anxiety if you catch it immediately upon its arrival. So, here is what this troublemaker looks like from different angles:
The Emotional Side Of Anxiety:
- The child is hypersensitive to events and situations that would not typically demand or lead to such a response.
- Extreme moodiness and frequent moping and crying.
- Anger and irritation without a clear reason for it.
- Grouchiness and hyper reactivity.
- Extreme anxiousness before stressful events such as sports meets, tests or any other event that involves performance gauging.
- Fear of not performing as expected or of making mistakes to the point that the child avoids participation or taking action.
- Panic attacks and eventually a fear of panic attacks that interfere with normal life.
- Extreme phobias.
- Hyper worrying and exaggerated fears.
- Anxiousness and worry about eventualities and future occurrences (in other words, the child is overly concerned about something that may happen in the future but which is not a present day reality).
- Abnormal clinginess and worries related to separation even when the child is going to be away from his parents and his home for just a few hours.
- Nightmares and sleep disturbances, particularly nightmares involving the loss/death of a loved one.
- Excessive temper tantrums and meltdowns.
- OCD like responses and behavior, including repetitive thoughts and the propensity for repetitive actions.
The Verbal And Behavioral Red Flags Of Anxiety:
- A constant preoccupation with “what ifs”, even when such doubts are not normal/required.
- Staying away from friends and recreational activities common to the child’s age.
- Unwillingness to talk and express himself/herself in school and at home.
- Extreme shyness and introversion (particularly when these traits are new developments).
- The child makes excuses to avoid school, playtime, outdoor time, public speaking, sharing, etc.
- The desire to spend most of his/her time indoors.
- Tends to sit alone even at lunchtime in school.
- Reluctance to participate in any extracurricular activities, including hobby classes, social events at school, etc.
- Constantly seeks approval through verbal and non-verbal signs.
- Dreads discussing academic issues and performance.
- Lack of confidence is evident in verbal and nonverbal interaction.
- Tends to give up easily for fear of humiliation/failure.
The Physical Pains Of Anxiety:
- The child often suffers from muscle pain, headaches and gastric distress without any medical reasons for the symptoms.
- Refusal to eat food in school or even use the restroom in a public place for fear of catching an infection.
- Sleep disturbances, including excessive daytime sleepiness, inability to fall asleep and trouble staying asleep.
- Sudden and abnormal weight gain or loss.
- Palpitation, sweating and trembling when faced with stressful situations or the prospect of them.
- Joint and muscle pain brought on by constant muscular tenseness.
- Bed wetting.
- Loss of appetite.
What Can The Grownups Do To Prevent Anxiety In Children?
Anxiety can be a hard beast to push out once it enters and takes root in your child’s life. I am not saying that you cannot do anything about the problem, but as with all afflictions out there, be they physical, mental or emotional, prevention sure is better than cure when it comes to anxiety as well.
So, in that spirit, let me tell you about what the ADAA suggests you do to keep anxiety away from your child.
Listen carefully and listen empathetically:
All too often parents tend to just listen to the gist of what their child tells them. And, I really can’t blame them because modern day parenting is truly hard and even overwhelming.
But, if you want to understand what is going on in your child’s life and his mind, you will have to both listen and watch closely for what is being said through words and what is being conveyed through non-verbal signs.
Become the emblem of calmness:
Anxious parents cause anxiousness in children even if the parental anxiety is attributed to a strong desire to keep their child from becoming anxious. I know that is a lot of anxiety in one sentence.
But, it’s a fact; the more worked up you get about keeping the stressors of life away from your little munchkin, the more chaotic the vibes around you are going to get, and rest assured your kiddo will pick up on these. In fact, the best way to help your child is to lead by example.
After all, children naturally tend to emulate and imitate their parents. So, if you keep your cool when stressed, your child will naturally follow your lead. Similarly, when trying to calm a stressed child, it is imperative to keep a grip on yourself. This means keeping your voice low, speaking slowly and empathizing with your kid.
Don’t make life exclusively about winning and losing:
As grownups we know that our children will have plenty of time and reason to take that approach as they get older. But, for now, make sure that you appreciate effort over outcome.
I bet you have heard this one before and there is a sound reason for that. Unfortunately, parents inadvertently end up harping on accomplishments.
The adverse effect of this approach is that over time the fear of not accomplishing the expected goal stops kids from participating all together, and you certainly don’t want to instill this attitude in them.
So, step back and ask yourself if you make it a point to praise your child for his/her determination, skills, hard work, genuine effort and characteristics.
Turn mistakes into learning opportunities:
Often the line between a genuine mistake and callousness/carelessness gets blurred when parents assess their child’s performance. While there will be some mistakes that will call for penalty, most can be turned into a learning opportunity without an imposition involved.
Your child need not be a mini-you:
The worst thing that parents can do is impose their expectations on their child. Without a doubt, when you bring a little person into this world and invest so many efforts and emotions into his/her upbringing, you want nothing but the best for him/her and from him/her/.
But, if you have a child who is struggling with anxiety, it will help greatly to scale down your expectations. And this should certainly not be done with a sense of disappointment. Quite simply, there is nothing to be disappointed about.
Your child is just one of those individuals who needs a bit more time and encouragement to find his bearing. But as we all know, the fastest don’t always make it in life; more often than not, resilience and determination are the key factors that lead to success.
And by being realistic, patient and empathetic, those are the very traits you will nurture in your child.
That said, life does not always turn out the way you want it to. So, despite everything, your child may still end up in the clutches of anxiety. And, when that happens you will need the grounding techniques that I will discuss in a bit. But first…
Do Grounding Exercises For Kids Actually Work?
Yes, they do! You will notice that frequently when a child is anxious, his stress is brought on by thoughts of futuristic events and occurrences. In simple words, there is no real/present basis for all that crippling worry.
Grounding ideas help to bring the child back to the present moment. This is in itself a powerful diffusing mechanism. Furthermore, because these activities completely engross the child, the brain is pulled away from the ruminating negative thoughts.
Also, the very nature of these exercises helps to bring down the heart rate and the blood pressure. Once these two factors are reined in, the physical sensations that accompany anxiety and eventually fuel it as well, are removed from the equation.
And if all of that is not enough, mindfulness helps to instill the habit of noticing and appreciating all that is good around you. And that is a fantastic habit to pick up early on in life, because that is what will see your child through many a tough situations in the future.
Top 5 Grounding Exercises For Children
1. Breath off the stress:
This is one of the most popular grounding activities and one that immediately helps to calm the mind as it rallies the power of the parasympathetic nervous system. Although most people use the outstretched fingers as a cue for inhalation and exhalation (Take 5 exercise), I have my own spin on this.
I ask my kid to imagine that all that is bothering him is dirt stuck to his hand and he is going to wash it all off. And we do this in 5 simple steps.
Inhale 1: Wipe off the palm of the left hand with the right as you inhale through the nose. (as if you are washing your hand slowly and deliberately).
Exhale 1: Wipe off the palm of the right hand with the left as you exhale through the mouth.
Inhhale2: Wipe the back of the left hand with the right palm as you inhale through the nose.
Exhale 2: Wipe the back of the right hand with the left palm as you exhale through the mouth.
Inhale 3: Rub both palms against each other, back and forth as you inhale through the nose (one long inhalation because you are almost done her).
Exhale 3: Rub the backs of both hands with the palms, as if you are washing your hands and exhale through the mouth with a nice audible sound signaling that you are finally done washing off the bad stuff.
2. The jar of peace:
This is another effective exercise that is popular and works for kids of all ages. You will need an empty glass jar, some glitter and some glue. Pour enough glue in the jar to fill it half way through and then add glitter to it.
When your child is having trouble dealing with his wayward thoughts/emotions, ask him to imagine that that the glitter in the jar represents (is like) everything he is feeling at that moment. Then, give the jar a good shake and ask him to focus on what happens to the glitter.
The agitated particles will spread throughout the viscous base but given a few minutes, the particles will begin to settle. Kids, even the younger lot, are naturally attracted to shiny things, so the glitter is bound to grab their attention.
Tell them that they have to trace the glittery particles for the magic to happen and as the shiny bits begin to settle explain in a calm voice, “see how all those negative thoughts are also sinking to the bottom with the glitter” or some version thereof.
3. The 5 doors to peace:
This one engages the sensory channels to divert the child’s attention from the turbulence in his mind. Sit the child down and tell him that you are going to play a game. Then, ask these 5 questions:
- What are the 5 things you see right now?
- What are the 4 sounds you hear right now?
- What are the 3 things you smell right now?
- What are the 2 things you can touch right now?
- What is the one thing you want to eat right now?
You can go through all the five senses or you can focus on just the first 2 or 3, which is easier to do when you are dealing with a young child.
4. That warm fuzzy feeling:
I have a few fuzz balls and a few colored smooth stones for this exercise. I keep them in a box and they are brought out when my kid is showing signs of anxiousness. We call it our good box.
I simply hand my child a fuzz ball and ask him to roll it between his fingers. And as he does that, I ask how the ball feels. What is the color of the ball? Is it smooth and soft? I repeat the same exercise with a smooth pebble.
Then, I take them both and lock them back in the box with the statement- When you rolled the fuzzball and the pebble they took away all your fear/nervousness/anxiety and now they are locked up in the box.
5. I stand tall and strong like the tree:
This is another prop free exercise that is remarkably effective. Ask the child to take of his shoes and stand with his feet apart. He has to stand tall and firm because he is a tall tree. Next, ask him to raise his arms straight and as high as he can while keeping his feet flat on the ground.
Now, ask him to close his eyes and imagine that his feet are growing roots which are going deep in the ground. Tell him to imagine that he is growing tall very quickly. Then, ask him if he has grown as tall as you already. If he says yes, tell him but he is still growing taller.
If he says no, then ask how tall has he grown in his mind? Tell him that he is growing fast and soon enough his hands will touch the ceiling (any other fixture in the home). After 2-3 rounds of this question, tell him that he is now a tall and strong tree.
Tell him to feel the roots growing from his feet into the ground; to feel how strong and firm they are and then tell him to feel the strength of his branches (his arms and hands). Then, ask him to open his eyes and bring his hands down and sit.
There are many grounding ideas for kids but, here is what you need to know about them…
There is simply no disputing the efficacy of grounding ideas for children who are battling anxiety. But for all their effectiveness, these exercises are not a magic pill. So, don’t expect things to smooth over within a day.
The worst part of anxiety and stress is that these are chronic problems, which means you will have to deal with multiple repeat episodes before you finally get a glimpse of the ray of light at the end of the tunnel.
So, you will have to be patient and resolute about helping your child through this phase. And while you are putting out fires for your child, spare some time for your own needs as well. Parenting can be a mentally and physically exhausting and a 24/7 job. So, take care of yourself if you want to offer the best care to your child.