I will never forget the evening I greeted my father at the door after he returned from work with an anxious, blurred speech about how I had a test on all 50 capitals of the U.S. the following day. My father spent all night calming me down and trying to (somehow) teach his fourth grade daughter—with pretty bad attention issues—all of the capital cities.
The next morning I dragged my feet to class and saw an announcement I was not expecting: the test was not on the fifty capitals. It was on the correct abbreviations of the 50 states.
My anxiety and fear blinded me so much that I lost my peace of mind and I wasted time studying something I wasn’t even being tested on.
We encounter anxiety every day. I believed for a long time that anxiety was an “adult” problem and that because I was relatively young, I shouldn’t be having to deal with it. Well, regardless of what I thought was normal, I did deal with situational anxiety as a child, and many children do as well.
As we head into a new school year, situational anxiety and diagnosed anxiety are likely more rampant among young children as they experience a change in their daily life.
Oftentimes, our familiarity with anxiety as adults may blind us to the fact that anxiety is scary. It’s an overwhelming sensation, and most children have no idea how to deal with it. I was diagnosed with OCD when I was 16, so I’m the last person in the world you want to ask if you’re sure you unplugged your flat iron. I’ll probably tell you there’s a good chance your house is already on fire.
Beginning in my early childhood, my anxiety and inability to cope with uncertainty (the root cause of almost all OCD and anxiety) haunted me and stripped me from being present and enjoying my childhood.
At night I would lie awake wrestling with a merciless string of what if’s: What if I don’t make any friends? What if my teachers don’t think I’m smart? What if I get called on to answer a question and I embarrass myself?
Here are three tips to implement in your home today to help your children of all ages feel less anxious, especially as a new back-to-school season begins.
Encourage natural remedies.
Spending time in the sun, eating foods that nourish the body and mind, and drinking water are essential. Signing your children up for a sport or activity that allows them to be active or work up a sweat also makes a positive impact.
These are all accessible, affordable, and easy ways to ease anxiety. Note the word “ease” anxiety. A helpful lesson, starting from childhood, for anxiety-sufferers to learn is that their anxiety does not have to be gone in order for them to have a happy, fulfilled life.
Remind your kids that there’s nothing wrong with feeling anxious.
Normalizing anxiety is a crucial step in helping your children deal with new experiences or overwhelming situations. Surrounding them with role models or friends, book and movie characters, and toys and games that teach them their anxiety is okay will also help. (See below for a recommended book for anxious children.)
Similarly, children should also learn that there are plenty of “normal” natural ways to deal with anxiety. It is very likely that they seek out the same resources for comfort that their peers do. Self-soothing for anxiety can be found in physical comforts such as blankets, pacifiers, stuffed animals, deep breathing, and sucking one’s thumb.
According to Medical News Today, 70-90 percent of children suck their thumbs. Children may suck their thumbs to ease their anxiety and provide personal comfort, and they’re not the only ones who do this! Baby elephants also suck their trunks for comfort!
Establish predictable routines at home.
Most often, anxiety stems from the fear of life’s unpredictability and an inability to control it. However, there are some things we are in control of, and it’s important to take full advantage of these opportunities.
Consider creating a strict bedtime routine for your child, in which the steps of getting ready for bed are the exact same, roughly around the same time. This strategy improves your organization and household efficiency while also giving your child something to rely on. Think about bath and shower time, brushing teeth, room cleaning, getting clothes picked out for the next day, and a specific amount of reading time before bed.
When families focus on creating a home that is as anxiety-free as possible, we are helping children learn that anxiety does not need to stop them from living a happy, fulfilled life.
New Children’s Book:
The Boy with the Magic Thumb
The Boy with the Magic Thumb is a new children’s book written by Laura Jacobson. Published by Creative Minds Publications, this tale follows the story of an anxious child who sucks on his thumb when he is afraid as a source of comfort. His grandmother tells him that one day as he grows and matures in life, he will learn that his thumb was never a “magic” source of comfort—the magic was inside him all along.
Debut author Laura Jacobson, a resident of Virginia Beach, wrote The Boy with the Magic Thumb, which was inspired by her son. She is a graduate of Meredith College, a former sales representative for Revlon Cosmetics and Fragrances, and the former president of The Council of Garden Clubs of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Join Laura for a book signing and launch, which will take place on Thursday, September 28th, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Banner’s Hallmark: Columbus Village East, 4421 Virginia Beach Boulevard #103, Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Kaitlyn Garrett is a rising senior at University of Richmond majoring in Leadership Studies and English. She just completed a summer internship for Creative Minds Publications in Richmond, Virginia.