While anxiety disorders are often associated with teens or adults, young children can, and do, get anxious. According to the National Institutes of Health, around 25 percent of all teens will experience some type of anxiety disorder and almost 6 percent will have "severe" anxiety disorder. If your child has anxiety, chances are you have developed strategies at home to help your child manage and lower anxiety levels. But your child can’t always be with you and for those times you might find it helpful to create an anxiety toolbox your child can use to lower their stress and anxiety levels. This type of kit can also help teach your child self-help strategies that can be used for many years.
An anxiety toolkit should be tailored specifically to your child. You might have found that some stress relievers work better than others. The following are some ideas you can include in your kit. Make sure you consider your child’s age and emotional development when creating these kits. Some items are geared more toward older children and some toward young children.
- Mints to help relieve stomach aches
- Hard candies
- Snacks such as granola bars and a juice box or small water bottle (hunger can increase stress levels)
- Small stuffed animal
- Paper and colored pencils for "art therapy"
- A book for distraction
- Specialized book with anti-anxiety techniques (there are many books available - geared to all different age groups)
- Stress balls
- Lavender or vanilla (or whatever scent helps your child) items
- iPod with soothing music or nature sounds with headphones, you can get noise-blocking headphones
- Relaxation technique reminder cards - use index cards to write down relaxation techniques such as "breath," "imagine your favorite place," "hum a song," "count to 100," and “practice mindfulness.” Sometimes when children are anxious, they forget what to do, these cards serve as a reminder. AnxietyBC provides detailed instructions for creating Cognitive Coping Cards.
- Pictures of your child’s favorite place, such as the beach or playground
- Pictures of your family
- A blanket
- A list of people your child can go to for help
Remember to customize the items to your child and the techniques that work for him or her. Before sending your child out of the house with the toolkit, go over each item and talk about how it can be used to calm anxiety. Have your child spend time using it at home before bringing it to school or to a friend’s house. If your child will be bringing it out of the house, make sure it is portable and easy to carry, a lunchbox with a favorite character (for young children) might be a great way to carry items. For older children, a purse or backpack can be used.
You might also want to create two kits - one portable and one for your home. This provides your child with the tools to start learning self-care and how to manage anxiety without your assistance so when he or she does go to school or a friend’s house, the strategies needed to lower anxiety are readily available.
For more information on anxiety in children:
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.