Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns for children and adults, affecting upwards of 20% of children and adolescents over the lifespan. Navigating anxiety is an essential life skill that will serve your child in the years to come. In the heat of the moment, try these simple supportive phrases to help your child identify, accept, and work through their anxious moments.
1. “I love you. You are safe.”
Being told that you will be kept safe by the person you love the most is a powerful affirmation. Remember, anxiety makes your children feel as if their minds and bodies are in danger. Repeating they are safe can soothe the nervous system.
2. “Let’s pretend we’re blowing up a giant balloon. We’ll take a deep breath and blow it up to the count of 5.”
If you tell a child to take a deep breath in the middle of a panic attack, chances are you’ll hear, “I CAN’T!” Instead, make it a game. Pretend to blow up a balloon, making funny noises in the process. Taking three deep breaths and blowing them out will actually reverse the stress response in the body and may even get you a few giggles in the process.
3. “I will say something and I want you to say it exactly as I do: ‘I can do this.’” Do this 10 times at variable volume.
Marathon runners use this trick all of the time to get past “the wall.”
4. “If how you feel was a monster, what would it look like?”
Giving anxiety a characterization means you take a confusing feeling and make it concrete and palpable. Once kids have a worry character, they can talk to their worry.
5. “Can you draw it?”
Drawing, painting or doodling about an anxiety provides kids with an outlet for their feelings when they can’t use their words.
6. “Let’s put your worry on the shelf while we _____ (listen to your favorite song, run around the block, read this story). Then we’ll pick it back up again.”
Those who are anxiety-prone often feel as though they have to carry their anxiety until whatever they are anxious about is over. This is especially difficult when your children are anxious about something they cannot change in the future. Setting it aside to do something fun can help put their worries into perspective.
7. “I get scared/nervous/anxious sometimes too. It’s no fun.”
Empathy wins in many, many situations. You may even strike up a conversation with your child about how you overcame anxiety.
8. “Tell me the worst thing that could possibly happen.”
Once you’ve imagined the worst possible outcome of the worry, talk about the likelihood of that worst possible situation happening. Next, ask your child about the best possible outcome. Finally, ask them about the most likely outcome. The goal of this exercise is to help a child think more accurately during their anxious experience.
9. “Worrying is helpful, sometimes.”
This seems completely counter-intuitive to tell a child that is already anxious, but pointing out why anxiety is helpful reassures your children that there isn’t something wrong with them.
10. “Remember when…”
Competence breeds confidence. Confidence quells anxiety. Helping your children recall a time when they overcame anxiety gives them feelings of competence and thereby confidence in their abilities.
11. “You are so brave! I am proud of you already.”
Affirm your children’s ability to handle the situation, and you empower them to succeed this time. Knowing you are pleased with their efforts, regardless of the outcome, alleviates the need to do something perfectly – a source of stress for a lot of kids.
12. “I’m taking a deep breath.”
Model a calming strategy and encourage your child to mirror you. If your children allow you, hold them to your chest so they can feel your rhythmic breathing and regulate theirs.
13. “How can I help?”
Let your children guide the situation and tell you what calming strategy or tool they prefer in this situation.
14. “This feeling will pass.”
Often, children will feel like their anxiety is never-ending. Instead of shutting down, avoiding, or squashing the worry, remind them that relief is on the way.
15. “I know this is hard. Tell me about it”
Acknowledge that the situation is difficult. Your validation shows your children that you respect them. Without interrupting, listen to your children talk about what’s bothering them. Talking it out can give your children time to process their thoughts and come up with a solution that works for them.