Tips & Tools for Kids with Anxiety

Two weeks ago we sold our house!  

Now this has been a loooong process, one that began over 2 years ago.  (Yep, that means 2 years of home opens and trying to get the kids to not trash the walls, not fun). 

When the document arrived that officially stated our house was no longer ours, I was flooded with a mix of emotions. I was relieved (I no longer had to painstakingly dress the house for home opens). I was happy (another step towards the future for our little family). I was excited  (house hunting, yay!). But I was also sad (this was the only home my babies had known). Oh, and I was a little anxious thinking where on earth were we going to live! 

That was a lot to deal with all at once – but nothing I couldn’t handle. As adults we spend our whole lives developing strategies to deal with the emotional roller coaster that is life. Our little people unfortunately don’t have such effective ways of dealing with change and stress. 

A few nights after we excitedly announced the news to our family, our son was up in the night complaining of a headache, then again at school the next day. This wasn’t a normal complaint for him, so my mind starting ticking over. When I joined the dots what became clear was that he could be experiencing anxiety over the upcoming move, or at least picking up on my anxiety. After all, this is the only home he has known, and I still recall my deep attachment to my first family home. It was time for me to do some investigating!  

But first a little about anxiety in children. 

Anxiety in kids can manifest in so many different ways. From avoiding a situation, to stomach aches, headaches, bed wetting, difficulty sleeping, nail biting, withdrawal from group activities and being very needy/clingy. Every kid is different, and it is our duty as adults to be aware of the signs of anxiety in them. 

So once you have noticed some signs of anxiety, what are some ways of helping kids deal with it? 

Firstly, acknowledge that they are experiencing a very real emotion, and encourage them to talk about their worries with a trusted adult.  This is a good way to begin identifying the underlying cause of their anxiety, and more importantly finding ways to address it. My investigating lead  me to realise that my son was worried that we would have to leave behind his things and his prized possessions. This may seem small to an adult, but to him it was a big deal. As adults it is important we acknowledge that our children’s worries are real and significant for them. Now that I am aware of my son’s anxiety over moving house, I will reassure him by making sure he is involved in the packing process. I have also made a point of saying that we are moving together as a family, and it will be an adventure. 

Another tool to help with an anxious child is flower essences. Australian Bush flower Essences can assist children in dealing with their emotions. There are specific blends like Calm and Clear – which helps in relaxing and keeping calm. Emergency Essence which is a favourite and I always have some stashed away in my handbag. This essence is ideal for when you feel panic, distress or fear.

Bush flower essences are available in most health food shops and could definitely be a natural remedy to assist in relieving your child’s anxiety. For a more personalised blend contact The Naughty Naturopath Mum, she not only makes her own blends, but can take into account your child’s individual needs. 

Specific nutrients can also be beneficial in times of anxiety such as Magnesium, B6, B12, Zinc. These can be obtained in the diet by increasing greens, nuts, pepitas, avocados, bananas, red meats, legumes and nutritional yeast.

Omega 3 fatty acids, in particular DHA has been shown to benefit brain health and assist in mood management. This can be found in oily fish, such as salmon and sardines. There are also supplements available - just make sure they are good quality and filtered to ensure no to low contamination. I personally use Metagenics, Bioceuticals and Nordic Naturals. 

Herbs are also another great anxiety defender. Herbs that can help with anxiety include Lemon Balm, Passionflower, Chamomile, Lavender, Hops, and Oats. When choosing a herbal or nutritional product make sure you choose one that is specifically designed for kids and use the correct dosages. Alternatively, simply begin by adding a couple of drops of Lavender Oil on a tissue and place it in their pillowcase at night to help with sleep.  

Diet is also an integral part of managing anxiety. Reducing sugars and additives is a great first step. Excessive sugar intake has been found to cause hyperactivity, tooth cavities, blood sugar swings and mood swings.

Many additives have been proven to cause problems in kids, from hyperactivity to eczema and rashes. The easiest way to avoid them is to check which foods are additive free. Tanya Winfield from Additive-Free Pantry has shopping guides and other easy to use books. There is also an app for your phone called Additive Alert, which is great when you are in the shop and unsure of a number or ingredient. My advice: If you can’t pronounce it – don’t eat it! 

Cut out the caffeine – too much caffeine in an adult can cause the jitters, and this is magnified in children. The half-life of caffeine is about 6 hours and if your kids are having a caffeinated beverage or even chocolate in the late afternoon they may struggle to sleep. A sleep deprived child will have far greater difficulty dealing with everyday stress. 

Another tip: Include complex carbohydrates. Kids do need carbs – just not the refined sort. Adding in carbohydrate containing vegetables like sweet potato, pumpkin, beetroot and carrot are very grounding. Gluten free grains such as brown rice, buckwheat and quinoa can also be beneficial and a source of B vitamins.  Try my Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Soup.

Regular meals and snacks can help kids maintain their blood sugar balance and mood. A snack with protein and fat (nuts, seeds, eggs, hummus, avocado, mini meatballs) is the most beneficial. 

Besides the tools I have mentioned here, there are many more approaches to calming an anxious kid. This article fromThe Idealist Mom outlines 8 great tips to use. Also, ‘What to Do When You Worry Too Much : A Kids Guide to Overcoming Anxiety.” From Dawn Hubener, PhD is a very useful book to read with your child. Maggie Dent  also has a wealth of information on teaching kids resilience and has great resources for parents. Check her out! 

With the big move coming up next week I have been helping my son by giving him his own boxes to label and pack, and he has picked his new bedroom.  I have also started him with the Calm and Clear Bush Flower Essence at night.  He hasn’t had anymore headaches and is now happy to talk about the things he plans to do in the new house.

The main thing with anxiety in kids is to recognise that they have a valid feeling, and by giving them the tools (both emotionally and physically) to cope, you are giving them the best opportunity to thrive.