Does your grandchild seem stressed?
Here are Four Skills to help your grandchild handle anxiety.
By Beverly Lonsbury, Ph.D.
Does it seem like your grandchild has been stressed? Stress and anxiety are related. While feeling stressed periodically happens to everyone, anxiety is a reaction to stress as it increases. Anxiety is now the most common mental health disorder in children and can have a drastic effect on their wellbeing. Children as young as 4 years old are showing more signs of anxiety. We see in the news everyday examples of preschool and grade school children trying to deal with the increasing effects of anxiety in our world. In 2020, the COVID 19 pandemic combined with political and social unrest points to dramatic increases in anxiety in children. You might ask, “Can I make a difference in helping my grandchildren become emotionally healthy during such stressful times?”
The answer is “Yes!” You can make a real difference in the lives of your grandchildren. One way is by helping them name the emotions they are feeling! A neuroscience experiment conducted in 2007 by Lieberman and Associates showed that when participants were asked to name the emotions they were feeling, stressful emotional activity in the brain decreased. As a result, naming emotions reduced the impact of anxiety. What we learned from this research is the power that naming has on calming the brain and reducing the effects of stress.
The good news is that we can use these findings to teach skills that help our grandchildren learn how to deal with stress that can lead to anxiety. You can play an important role in your grandchildren’s lives. If your grandchildren are between the ages of 3 and 9, it is the perfect time for them to begin!
Here are 4 basic skills you can use to help your grandchildren handle stress and manage anxiety:
- Name feelings – You can encourage your grandchild to share some basic feelings. By naming some of your own feelings you are teaching the value of feelings and naming emotions. Here are some basic feelings you can begin to use: Happy, Sad, Cheerful, Afraid, Angry, Excited, Worried, Calm, Discouraged, Confused, Lonely, Surprised, Frustrated, Playful, Disgusted, Thankful, etc.
- Anxiety management and regulation – You can help your grandchild regulate emotions and anxiety. For example, you can intentionally calm yourself by taking a deep breath. Another simple soothing technique is to place your hand directly on your skin over your heart. Doing this will naturally calm your body and your brain. You can show your grandchild how to do this.
- Anxiety awareness – You can help your grandchild become aware of feeling anxious. Teach your grandchildren to recognize signals their body is sending such as, their hearts start to beat faster, and/or they begin to sweat. These are indications that anxiety may be increasing. Anxiety tends to travel from person to person. You can help your grandchild become aware that anxiety travels and they do not have to “catch” another person’s anxiety. You can focus on being calm around your grandchild because calm tends to travel from person to person as well.
- Identify Needs – Anxiety is often the result of an unmet need. You can ask, “What do you need?” Identifying needs helps us move forward in a helpful, constructive way with a response rather than an impulsive reaction. Examples of needs include Kind Words, a Best Friend, a Hug, Rest, Quiet, Patience, Fun, Love, Space, Privacy, Safety, Help, a Deep Breath, to Ask Questions, Success, etc.
At her 4th birthday party, my granddaughter became unusually quiet when our family and her friends sang “happy birthday” to her before serving her birthday cake. A few days later, I asked her to tell me what she was feeling during her birthday cake celebration. She told me she felt “confused and shy” because she did not know we were all going to sing and look at her. In other words, she needed “to know the plan” for the celebration so she could “ask questions” about what was going to happen.
With a little bit of practice, we can help our grandchildren become happier and calmer. Learning to name feelings is an easy skill to learn. Learning to name needs that pertain to the feelings takes some practice but this valuable skill can be learned as well. In other words, you can help your grandchildren learn to deal with stress and anxiety!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Bev Lonsbury is an educator, counselor, and author. She has a passion for helping others become more self-aware, happier, and relationally connected. Wellbeing and anxiety management were the focus of her 2013 Ph.D. studies resulting in numerous resources and games that promote wellbeing in people of all ages. She is thankful to be the grandmother to five happy and healthy grandchildren. www.icanrelategame.com
Check out more from GRAND about children and stress.