Learn how to help your child cope with overwhelming feelings from our mental health experts
No one wants to see their child feeling anxious or panicky. But thankfully there are ways you can help them better manage their anxiety.
The below techniques and strategies are sometimes used to help teach children how to cope with their anxiety or worry.
A grounding technique is a coping strategy for managing intense feelings and emotions. These techniques help to ‘ground’ us, which means they help us to notice the present moment we are in.
When we focus on our present moment this can reduce the intensity of the emotions and feelings we might be having. We focus less intensely on the future or on the past.
You could encourage your child to:
use their five senses – concentrating on what they can see, touch, hear, smell, and taste. For example, you could think together about five things they can see, four things they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell and one thing they can taste
take deep “belly breaths” – taking slow, deep breaths can help ease the feelings of anxiety and worry. To help your child do this, have them take a deep breathe through their nose, placing their hand on their stomach, and breathing in until their belly expands. Have them hold this for a few seconds, release slowly, and repeat
try the “roots” technique – focusing on a specific image can help to ground someone. Talk with your child and help them imagine that they are trees with roots extending from their feet into the ground. Get them to push their feet into the floor, imagining their “roots” reach deep into the earth, creating the image they are stable and firm, instead of feeling unsteady and unsure
Talking about, and naming, feelings
You could use the image to the right to talk about anxiety with your child.
1. Name the feeling and some of the possible affects your child may have experienced.
“Anxiety - when we feel anxious we can sometimes experience; difficulty remembering we are present in our current location, time and space, breathing can get faster, racing thoughts, heart rate increases”, for example.
2. Ask them how they feel when they are anxious or worried. You could use the blank bubbles to add other feelings they have experienced or are experiencing.
Mind based strategies
A strategy to help deal with feeling worried or anxious is to focus the mind on other things. These could include:
physically describing your environment - for example, “I am in a classroom”, “I can see a tree through the window”, “I am sitting on a hard chair”
tracking the environment for distractions - for example, “Can you find 5 circles in the room?”, “Can you find 10 blue things?”, “Can you see something that starts with each letter of the alphabet?”, “How many straight lines can you see?”
Physical sensation strategies
Below are some physical sensation strategies you could try with your child:
run their hands under cool water
focus on their breath – you could use online tools, animations, or videos on YouTube for pace if slowing breath down is tricky
touch different objects - you could get your child to squeeze a pen, grip the edge of the chair, or feel their clothing
carry a grounding object - for example, this could be a stone, a piece of ribbon, a bracelet, a fidget toy, or something your child finds comforting
stretch or move – encourage your child to move their body, this could be wiggling their arms or clenching their toes, for example
Some soothing strategies you could try with your child include:
creating a calming ‘self-care kit’ – a self-care kit is a box that’s packed with objects that ground your child and help them when they’re feeling worried or anxious. Usually they engage the five senses: touch, hearing, smell, taste, and sight. For example, you could include quotes, fidget toys, or their favourites sweets
make positive plans – talk about things your child is looking forward to in order to anchor them. Think about these plans and ask what they’re most excited about
use images and music – use a phone or laptop to build a selection of helpful images and music that your child finds calming. A trusted adult, could even record a grounding message for them to listen to when they need
Think about the above strategies and try some with your child. Make a note of the ones that work well and use these first in the future when your child is feeling anxious or worried.
It’s a good idea to practice these techniques when your child is calm, as well as when they are feeling anxious or worried. Regularly practicing these techniques will mean your child is more likely to remember them and use them in situations when they are feeling intense emotions.