Overcoming Anxiety in Children: Play Ideas & Advice

August 7, 2015 Published by

child-a-little-worriedAs children prepare for a new school, class or adventure, its not uncommon for them to be anxious. How parents help to deal with anxiety in children at a young age can set children up for life.  Some children will learn to use anxiety to get out of doing things they dont like, or as an attention seeking tool whilst others are able to make rational judgements about risk and face anxiety with a positive attitude.

Children whose anxiety is acknowledged and understood and who are helped to find coping strategies can learn to  turn worries into excitement and challenges into opportunities. These children will develop resilience and be better prepared to cope with stress and trauma in later life. Isnt that what we all want for our children? Its certainly a much more practical approach than trying to protect them from everything forever. 

Children have a fantastic tool at their disposal to help them manage their emotions – imagination! With a little support children can harness their imagination, naturally implementing techniques from established therapies such as Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) enabling their mind to visualise or imagine themselves in situations. These techniques give children ownership of their emotions and assist them communicate their anxieties effectively so that other people can support them.

Play is the best way to promote imaginative play and there are many toys that can help children escape into their fantasy world and play out situations in their mind.GTG-R-Rory-Story-Cube

Adults often struggle to understand childrens fantasy worlds so whilst this sort of play should be supported and facilitated by adults, its not always necessary or beneficial to get involved. Children can immerse themselves in their own world and find the answers they are looking for.

Some play can be enhanced with adult involvement – e.g. making up stories, but adults should be careful not to lead children too much. Asking open ended questions and encouraging the children to enrich their narrative is great, but make sure its the childs own story. It can be difficult for children to know where to start with a story and adults can certainly prompt suggestions. Toys that support childrens imaginative storytelling, such as Rorys Story Cubes help children articulate their worries in an un-pressured, non-judgemental way.

Young children can often find it difficult to explain their worries, especially to an adult. Children don
t want to disappoint their parents so may be unwilling to admit to worries if they are seen as a failing. Giving children a vehicle such as the Worry Eater to explain their worries to can empower children to express their emotions and anxiety.  This is a great way for parents to understand whats going on in their childrens minds without needing to react to everything, giving children the freedom to work things out for themselves where appropriate but being able to support their children with serious issues.

Photo Credit: A Little Worried by Andy Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0


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This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer

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