It is perfectly normal for children to experience anxiety as they grow, learn, and change environments. One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is teach them useful strategies for understanding and tending to this emotion.
This article will give you activities and tools to help your child cope with anxiety. Test them and see which ones help your child.
Do not be surprised if some of them feel good for you too!
Table of Contents
- When is Anxiety Normal?
- My Top List of Anxiety Activities for Kids
- 1. Calm-Down Jars
- 2. Bibliotherapy
- 3. 5-4-3-2-1 Sensory Activity
- 4. Put Together An Anti-Anxiety Or “Calm Down” Kit
- 5. Stress Ball
- 6. Slime Play
- 7. Journaling
- 8. Anti-Anxiety Playlist
- 9. Breathing Exercises
- 10. Relaxation Or Worry-Free Zone
- 11. Coloring Books
- 12. Shake-Shake-Shake
- 13. Aromatherapy
- 14. Blowing Bubbles
- 15. Running Or Walking In Nature
- 16. Worry Stones
- 17. Companion Toy
- 18. Puzzles
- 19. Yoga For Kids
- 20. Worry Box
- 21. Refreshments
- 22. Counting games
- 23. Visualization
- 24. Singing
- 25. Code Red
When is Anxiety Normal?
Situations where anxiety is a normal responses include:
- The unknown
- A lack of predictability and control
- Perceived lack of psychical or emotional safety.
- Separation (read more about separation anxiety here)
Depending on the age and developmental stage of a child, anxiety can show up in different ways. Some of them include:
- Agitation, irritability, restlessness
- Stomachaches or headaches (especially prior to anxiety-inducing activities)
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Problems sleeping through the night
- Strong emotional reactions to separation
- Meltdowns and temper tantrums (especially when things change abruptly or when their expectations fail)
- Inattention, difficulty staying focused
- Lack of initiative to connect with others, which can wrongly be interpreted as shyness
- Physical tension
- They are easy to startle
Note: according to a recent analysis of statistics by Blue ABA, children with autism are at higher risk of developing anxiety.
If ignored or suppressed, anxiety can cause severe challenges in children’s ability to learn and connect with others. Introducing tools and activities can help manage their response to anxiety and improve daily functioning.
My Top List of Anxiety Activities for Kids
1. Calm-Down Jars
Also known as a sparkle bottle or a glitter jar. The purpose of a calm-down jar is to help release negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, irritation, or restlessness by shaking it and then regain calm by focusing on its content, which falls down slowly.
The pace of glitter settling on the bottom of a jar (or a bottle, as it is preferable to use plastic and not glass for safety) is a cue for an anxious child to deepen their breath. This is essentially a tool to practice mindfulness with kids, as it helps them to recognize emotion, release it and wind down using deep breathing.
There are plenty of ways to make them at home, which is a great opportunity to include your child in creating their own anxiety coping tool.
Books are powerful for soothing kids and teaching them specific behavioral tools to cope with anxiety. The ritual of reading a book at a certain time of the day (such as bedtime) can serve as a comforting anchor on emotionally charged days.
Also, by listening to how their favorite characters respond to specific situations, children get ideas on how they could respond. You can engage them in discussing the emotions of a character, their struggles, and how they coped.
Here are some of our book recommendations:
- Please Explain Anxiety to Me!: Simple Biology and Solutions for Children and Parents
- Everyone Feels Anxious Sometimes – A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety and Finding Inner Peace and Confidence – Anxiety Book for Children Ages 3-10 to Help Alleviate Worry
- Greta and the Dark Cloud: A Story About Overcoming Fear and Anxiety for Kids
- The Invisible String
3. 5-4-3-2-1 Sensory Activity
This activity helps people step out of their anxious thoughts and become grounded by focusing on their senses. Ask a child to look around and name 5 things they can touch, 4 things they can see, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell, and one thing they can taste.
This way, the child becomes aware of their physical reality in which they are safe and present. The activity itself redirects focus on what is in their control.
4. Put Together An Anti-Anxiety Or “Calm Down” Kit
The kit is a personalized box with tools that feel soothing for a child. It can contain anything a child feels could help them be more at ease, such as their favorite toy, a snack, a water bottle, handwritten notes from parents, a calming glitter jar, a fidget toy, family photos, colored pencils, etc.
Make sure that your child takes part in creating it. It is essential that they find its content useful, fun, or calming.
5. Stress Ball
A stress ball is a stress-relieving tool. Squeezing the stress ball stimulates nerves and muscles, which helps reduce cortisol. Allow a child to test different ones and choose which texture, hardness, and color feels the most comfortable. You can also make them at home. Here’s how.
6. Slime Play
This is another sensory activity that can help release tension and promote relaxation. Just like stress balls, squeezing slime stimulates nerves in your hand that are connected to the limbic region in the brain, which is also responsible for the sense of calm and relaxation.
You can teach anxious kids to slowly sync their breath to the pace of squeezing slime. The sensation itself feels good. There are hundreds of slime recipes online. Making it is also a fun way to engage kids.
A journal is an outlet for the thoughts and emotions a child struggles to express to other people. When we think of a journal, we usually think of pages filled with words. However, a journal can be more than just that.
For kids who have difficulty expressing themselves in writing or have not yet learned how to write, a journal can be just a notebook in which they draw pictures or color.
Help a child choose a color for each emotion and shade the whole page with colors that represent the intensity of each emotion in a day. You can ask them: “What were the colors of your day today?”
8. Anti-Anxiety Playlist
Make a playlist with all of their favorite songs they can listen to before or when they feel anxious. Music can be a go-to resource to soothe and lift spirits when someone feels uneasy and distressed. Just listening to familiar music can bring a sense of comfort and safety.
Teach your children to move with music – to step into their bodies and feel the rhythm. Dancing is a way to tap into their senses, release tension, and experience pleasure.
9. Breathing Exercises
It is never too soon (or too late) to teach kids the power of deep, conscious breathing. To help you teach children how to breathe deeply and with ease, use images and videos.
10. Relaxation Or Worry-Free Zone
It can be a place where your child usually goes for comfort or a place you build from scratch. For example, set up a small tent or a cozy space in the corner of their room with blankets, pillows, and sensory toys. When a child feels upset or anxious, they can go to this place to work through emotions, regain calm and come out of it when they are ready to talk.
11. Coloring Books
Coloring is an activity that gives both structure and freedom to process emotions. There is a sensory activity – applying pressure on the paper, the sounds, and the colors. Plus, it gives kids something to focus on, while feeling a sense of progress throughout the activity.
Movement is a very therapeutic way to release tension in the body that accumulates because of anxiety. You can use an anti-anxiety or a feel-good music playlist to accompany the movement. Shake your head, shake your arms, shake your hands, shake your legs. Invite kids to be playful, look silly, and smile as they are doing it (it is usually pretty fun!).
Scents can be very effective in helping ease anxiety. Test which scents your kid responds well to (ideas: lavender, jasmine, rose, sandalwood, or citrus scents). Use soaps, shower gels, or shampoos with that scent. For play, you can use scented play dough, or bring along a stuffed animal that smell familiar or comforting.
14. Blowing Bubbles
This repetitive sensory activity stimulates the nervous system in multiple ways. To blow bubbles, a child needs to find a steady breathing pace, which helps with relaxation. The activity allows kids to move focus from their racing thoughts to watching the bubbles slowly float in the air until they touch a surface and burst.
The bubbles can also serve as a metaphor for the thoughts themselves – just as they observe the bubbles, you can help them practice observing thoughts as they show up. You can turn bubble blowing into a mindfulness exercise.
15. Running Or Walking In Nature
A combination of physical activity and nature can be immensely helpful in clearing thoughts and tapping into bodily sensations. It is healthy in every way possible. This is an activity that you could turn into a daily or weekly routine. The routine itself gives structure, which increases the sense of predictability and control, to help reduce anxiety.
16. Worry Stones
Worry stones are smooth stones of different sizes that are soothing to touch. They are usually made from crystals or gemstones. When worried, a child can hold the worry stone in their hands or rub a thumb against them.
Take your child to the store and let them pick a few that feel good. You can also decorate the stones by drawing symbols or writing positive messages such as “You are safe”, “Breathe”, “I love you”, “Take your time”, etc.
17. Companion Toy
A companion toy serves as a transitional object during a phase in which children start to spend time separate from their parents or caregivers. Most children develop an attachment to a certain toy or a blanket that they carry around everywhere. Once they feel secure and ready to let go, they leave them behind spontaneously.
However, some kids need it for a longer time than others. Also, though they may have left their toy behind, in distressing times or times they feel insecure, they may find it comforting to have it back again.
Puzzles require focus and structure, which helps alleviate anxiety. It is a great way to practice cognitive skills and improve executive functioning. They also give a sense of direction towards a specific goal – completing it.
19. Yoga For Kids
Yoga combines conscious movement and conscious breath, which together promotes calm. The practice helps release tension, taking care of both the body and mind. Here’s our recommendation for a kid’s yoga channel.
20. Worry Box
One of the important mindfulness tools to teach kids is to identify and share worrying thoughts and then address them, one at a time. Sometimes, they all come at once and feel overwhelming. This is where a worry box can come in handy.
It’s a place where a child can store their worries. When they notice something they are worried about, they can write it down on a piece of paper and put it in a box. Younger children can have their parent write it for them.
At first, they may need your help and encouragement to recognize the need to use it (“Hey, I see that you are worried about X. Let’s write it down and put it in the worry box. Later, after we have lunch and rest a bit, we can go back to it.”).
When they feel calmer and readier to talk about it, pull out the worry from a box and talk through it.
Sometimes, all a child needs is to pause and have a glass of water. Taking a long, refreshing sip helps distract the mind and brings attention back to the body.
22. Counting games
Counting helps redirect focus. Just counting can be boring to most kids, but counting pom poms, straws, or marbles and then sorting them into boxes by color or size is both fun, calming, and educational.
Teach kids how to close their eyes and visualize places they feel safe. Start with, “tell me about your favorite memory”. Invite them to imagine it, to describe it, by telling you what they see, hear, touch, smell, and taste.
In a way, you are helping them learn how to relive their favorite memories and transport themselves mentally to places in which they feel good. If you have a photo of it, print it for them to carry along as a cue for calm. If you don’t, encourage them to draw it.
It really doesn’t matter whether a child is “good at it” or not. For singing, and especially for singing loudly, they need to breathe and stand up straight – both promote calm and confidence. Car rides are a wonderful time to sing along to their favorite songs.
25. Code Red
Kids often find it difficult to explain anxiety and answer questions such as “what is happening?” or “why are you feeling this way?” Until they learn how to verbalize it, it is useful to have a code that signals that they are upset and don’t know what to do with it, but would like your help. The signal can be a word or a non-verbal sign, unique to your relationship.
Use these calming activities to find the ones that work best for your child. Some activities, such as breathing techniques or journaling, will take time and practice to become useful. These coping skills will help them throughout their lives, so they are well worth practicing.
And last, keep in mind that early on, children “borrow” their ability to self-regulate from you. They see how you respond to change and challenge and take your reaction as a cue on how they should react. This means that a part of helping your child cope with anxiety is addressing your own.