Remember when you were a child? What got you excited? What did you worry about? Was it the first day of school, an exam, or Christmas? Events and expectations can be exciting or frightening depending on how you perceive them. In essence, how we decide to think and feel determines our emotional state. So is there a way we can productively manage our thoughts?

Note: For those of you who missed it, this is an article I wrote for the Winter supplement of "Kids Connection" in the Kelowna Daily Courier.

Fortunately, managing our thinking is a skill that we can learn and the more we practice the better we become at it. But how do we teach this to a child that is anxious? Following are five fun activities that help to build this skill and at the same time reduce anxiety.

  1. Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit with your child. Close your eyes and imagine there’s a magic balloon in your tummy. When you slowly breathe in, the magic balloon gets really, really big. When you slowly breathe out, the magic balloon gets really, really flat. Continue to slowly breathe in and out. With each breath, the magic balloon helps you relax. Enjoy the feeling! Open your eyes.
  1. Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit with your child. Close your eyes and take a deep breath by breathing in through your nose. Exhale through your mouth and imagine that you are blowing out a huge bubble. Imagine that your fear is inside that bubble and watch it float up, up and away. Inhale again through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. This time, imagine that you are blowing out another huge bubble but this bubble is filled with happiness. Suddenly the bubble pops and splashes happiness all over your face. You smile. You feel wonderful! Open your eyes.
  1. Talk with your child about their fears. What is triggering their anxiety? Let them confront their fears one step at a time and at a pace that they feel comfortable with. Compliment them on their achievements. A great way to support them is with the following game:

Materials Required

  • 20 pennies
  • Bowl
  • 2 canning jars
  • Paper
  • Round edged scissors
  • Crayons
  • Glitter, Stars or Stickers
  • Tape

Instructions

  • Place 20 pennies in a bowl. Help your child count the pennies.  
  • Find two canning jars. One for you and one for your child.
  • Create your jar’s label. Cut some paper with round edge scissors to create a design. Write the words “Courage Jar” onto this label. Be creative by adding things like glitter, stars and stickers or by drawing rainbows, hearts and sunshine. Use your imagination. Tape this label to your jar.
  • Whenever you are able to face your fear and take a step towards courage, place a penny in your jar.
  • Encourage and compliment each other. How many pennies are there at the end of the day? Count the pennies and then reward yourselves with a special treat.
  1. With anxiety, we tend to focus on the what ifs and the worst-case scenarios. Why not change the negatives to positives with humour? For example: Pretend you’re Daffy Duck or your favorite outrageous cartoon character. How would they handle the situation that is making you anxious? This leads to an interesting discussion especially when imitating the voice and actions of the cartoon character!
  1. Studies show that exercise and regular activity positively impacts and reduces anxiety. How do we make exercise fun for a child? Host a dance party and dance your anxiety away! Your child can help you design invitations, pick the music, and think of contest ideas. It’s also a great way to connect with other families in your neighborhood.

The Magic of Think® uses stories, songs, games, lessons, and activities to help children reduce anxiety and build mental strength. www.themagicofthink.com

Janyse Jaud is an award-winning singer/songwriter, voiceover actress, author, and thinkologist working with clients such as Hasbro, Warner Bros., Marvel, Discovery, and The Cartoon Network. www.themagicofthink.com

Reference: Frontiers in Psychiatry, Elizabeth Anderson and Geetha Shivakumar, April 2013, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/