Some people believe that Christians should never feel anxiety. While God does want us to place our faith in Him, anxiety begins as an emotion. Like other emotions, God created them for a purpose. A little anxiety can help build resilience and encourage us to prepare ahead of time for important presentations. Anxiety, however, was not meant to cripple our ability to try new things or fully participate in life.
Scientists have found however, that when our brains stay in a specific emotional state for too long without a break, our minds can have more and more difficulty in switching emotional states. It’s one of the many reasons it is important to teach your children some godly coping skills that will help them control their anxiety levels and even switch emotional states. Teaching these coping skills is also important because when young people don’t have healthy coping skills they often turn to more dangerous ones like alcohol and illegal drugs.
Here are a few ways to teach your children to help curb their anxiety.
- Prayer. Teach your kids they can pray about their emotions to God. Tell them to let God know how they are feeling and ask Him to help calm them.
- Scripture. Have your kids find verses that comfort them or remind them of ways to manage their anxiety. Philippians 4:6-8 is a great one. Have them create scripture art and place it where they will see it on a regular basis. Encourage them to memorize helpful verses and repeat them to themselves as a way to help calm themselves.
- Controlled breathing. Anxiety makes hearts beat faster and breathing become quick and shallow. Slowing down the breathing can slow down the heart and calm the anxiety. There are various methods, but I’ve found for young children, breathing in for three counts and out for three counts is easier for them to remember and use. Tell little ones the story of Adam naming the animals or Noah and the Ark while placing a stuffed animal on their diaphragm as they lie on their back on the floor. Count as they make the toy go up and down for three counts each by taking deep breaths.
- God’s creation. Walks on the beach or in a forest naturally soothe as they combine exercise, an opportunity to have a parent’s full attention and being in God’s creation – reminded of His presence and love. You can also bring creation indoors with natural decorative elements, art and recorded sounds.
- Guided imagery. You can teach your children how to replace an unpleasant image or thought in their minds with a more pleasant one. You can find details online or in our book Ministering to Children of War. (There is a lot of information in the book about helping children and teens with anxiety. Much of it would be helpful to any child – even if they have not experienced war. It’s a free ebook on our website. http://teachonereachone.org/ministering-to-children-of-war/)
- Math. Sounds silly, but asking your child to count backwards from a hundred by sixes, can calm him or her. You can also try having them recite their multiplication tables or do some practice problems in the math they are taking at school. Be prepared to bring their focus back to the math if they seem to start becoming anxious again.
- Healthy habits. Eating healthy foods, exercising and getting 9-12 hours of sleep a night can also help curb anxiety in some. If nothing else, being physically healthy makes it easier to do the things necessary to be less anxious.
It is important to note that some children will need professional help in learning to manage their anxiety. If these coping strategies don’t seem to help, their symptoms worsen or they can’t function in their normal activities, consult your child’s doctor. For most children, the ideas above will help. It takes time, however, for them to learn these techniques and to remember to use them when anxious. Just keep coaching them until they automatically try a few without your reminders and assistance.