Published on
05 September 2019

When the symptoms of anxiety appear, it can be difficult for parents to know what to do to help their child. 

Here are a few of the methods used by our project workers that can be practiced together and used anytime, anywhere.

Traffic lights

It can be beneficial to explain to your child that there are helpful thoughts and unhelpful thoughts. Try using a Traffic Light system to discuss the difference between them:

Red: the red traffic light symbolises unhelpful thoughts that we need to learn to stop.

Amber: this refers to thoughts that could go either way, so we need to remember to slow down and think about whether it’s helpful or unhelpful.

Green: the green light symbolises helpful thoughts that we should go with. These are thoughts that make us feel brave and strong.

Once your child can identify unhelpful or ‘red’ thoughts it may be useful to introduce the idea of  challenging these thoughts, as often our unhelpful thoughts can be untrue.

Some examples of thought-calling questions could be:

• Is this true?

• Is this thought helpful?

• Is this thought rational?

The breathing method

One of the most common physical symptoms of anxiety is a difference in breathing - it tends to become shallower and quicker. This can sometimes lead to hyperventilation. 

This kind of breathing can make anxiety feel worse, so a simple breathing exercise can help.

  • Slowly breathe in through the nose for around four seconds

  • Hold this breath for one or two seconds 

  • Exhale slowly through the mouth over about four seconds

  • Wait two or three seconds before taking another breath (for teenagers, five to seven seconds)

  • Repeat for at least five to ten breaths


This technique can help children to use their environment and senses to help them focus their attention on something other than a trigger for anxiety.

Try helping them to identify:

  • Five things they can see

  • Four things they can hear

  • Three things they can smell

  • Two things they can feel

  • One thing they can taste

These are just a couple of the kind of techniques our practitioners use to support children and young people who use our services.

Find out more

  • Understanding anxiety

    Helpful information and support tips from our practitioners

  • Get help

    Where to get support for yourself or someone else

  • Support our work

    Your donation will help us reach more young people