Family feeling anxious? Here’s what to say & do
Posted by Samantha Lawson
Clinical Psychologist Dr Martha Deiros Collado who works in the NHS with children and families gives us some practical tips on what to say and do during stressful times and more ways to instil good mental wellbeing for our families.
When anxiety shows up?
When anxiety shows up, you need to ride the wave and find an anchor through grounding techniques for you, or if anxiety is showing in your child BE their anchor until the wave of anxiety passes.
Acknowledge anxiety’s presence by noticing and labelling it.
For your child: “I can hear you are feeling scared right now. It looks like Anxiety is around.”
For you: “I can feel that funny feeling in my tummy. I know it is anxiety.”
Validate the feelings anxiety brings along in their body.
For your child: “Is it making you feel a bit wobbly? I get it, anxiety feels really scary.”
For you: “This is a scary situation. I am scared. It is ok to feel this.”
Breathe, be still, and stay in the moment so you can ride the wave together.
For your child: “I am here with you. You are safe. We can take some hot chocolate breaths together. Anxiety will pass.”
For you: "I can take some hot chocolate breaths. I am in my body. I am safe."
Hot chocolate breaths:
Pretend you have a mug of hot chocolate in your hands. Smell the warm chocolatey smell for three, hold it for one, blow it cool for three, hold it for one. Repeat three or four times. (practice with your child with a real mug of hot chocolate!)
Practical tips during stressful times?
Having fun together is one of the best ways of shrinking down stress and anxiety. Protecting time to switch off from work and technology is essential at times when overwhelm is likely.
As much as you can, get outdoors and do something physical. You may enjoy going on a walk, or go on a ‘mini beast hunt’ and try to find certain insects or plants in nature, or go blackberry picking and then bake a cake together! Whatever you do – get up, get out, and have fun together.
Top tips for promoting good mental health in children?
1. Make sure they are well-nourished. Good food is good for children’s mood and for their brain too!
2. Encourage them to move! Whether its sport, going for a walk, doing yoga or just dancing around, it’s been proved that exercise and movement help children feel good.
3. Help them find ways to relax (without using a screen as a distraction!) Having a bath, drawing, reading, or playing a game together.
4. Encourage sleep. Try to stick to a bedtime routine and make sure they have enough rest. When times are tough sleep is often the first thing to get impacted and it can have a big impact on mood and energy levels.
5. Talk about feelings. Make talking about emotions a part of your every day with your kids. With toddlers, use books to help them spot emotions in others and help them develop language. With older children make it the norm to talk about feelings and be a role model by sharing how you are feeling openly and constructively (e.g. “Today I am feeling tired and I can see I am not very motivated. I think my body is trying to tell me I have been doing too much recently. I am going to take a break from work early so I can have a hot drink and just relax for a bit”).