I like to think that many children experience anxiety as what I call “the buzz.” They oscillate at a higher level. They may be sensitive to noises, crowds, and are easily overwhelmed, frustrated, or distracted. They may have difficulty settling down at night, or be fearful and worry about the future or the past (what I call the “what-iffers” and “woulda...coulda...shouldas”). Some have difficulty prioritizing, organizing, or remembering. This buzz is like a little pressure cooker or volcano. During the day, the pressure increases, but lots of children can “hold it together” at school. When they get home, the slightest increase in pressure will cause an explosion. It’s really the same for adults. How can we help children lower their buzz and not explode?
For many children, physical activity may go a long way to reduce the buzz. One little boy needed to trampoline in the morning before school and after school as well. By using the trampoline before school, he lowered his buzz enough to tolerate the anxiety-producing school day without getting overwhelmed or having a meltdown. By using the trampoline after school, he was able to lower his buzz enough – which had increased substantially throughout the day – to handle his frustration and get his homework done. One little girl walked on the family treadmill in the morning before and after school. She had initially come to therapy because she refused to go to school, and even when she went, she refused to do any work. But once she learned to lower her buzz, she was more compliant about going to school and doing her work.
Sleep is important in regulating emotions. Many children have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. They may get scared in the middle of the night and either wake up Mom and Dad or crawl into bed with them. Children who do not get restful sleep are unable to regulate their emotions – and the same goes for their parents. They wake up tired and grumpy, and it’s all downhill from there. If they go to bed with anxious thoughts, their sleep will be unsettled, as evidenced by the pillows and blankets on the floor. Sometimes, children even fall out of bed from tossing and turning so much.
Turn off screens
One of the problems that exacerbates children’s sleeplessness is screen time before bedtime. Children should not be watching any screen at least an hour before bedtime as blue screen has been found to reduce the natural production of melatonin, which is required for sleep.
Once it’s quiet and dark, worried thoughts creep in. It may be important to have “worry time” just before bed, so that children can vent their worries and go to sleep feeling relatively worry-free. Or perhaps they can put their worries on a worry tree or in a worry bank so they can free their minds for sleep.
Yoga can be helpful before bedtime to release some of the muscle tension that anxiety causes. It helps to calm and focus the mind. I have children pick a focal point, take three deep relaxation breaths, and then do a pose. I teach children three or four poses to work on – nothing overwhelming or too difficult – such as Tree, Gate, Warrior, and Cobra.
Deep diaphragmatic relaxation breathing is a necessary skill for lowering the buzz. Teaching children to calm down through breathing helps them to think things through and challenge any “unreasonable worries.” It’s important to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable worries. If you can make a plan, the worry thought is gone. If you can’t make a plan, then it is an unreasonable worry or “garbage” thought. These few simple tips can help lower the buzz enough for anxious children to be successful, able to focus in school, and regulate their emotions both at school and at home.For more tips, visit my website at audreystempel.com where you can leave comments and ask questions.