Anxiety is not just a grown up affliction. An estimated 13% of children and teens have anxiety disorders, and all children occasionally experience fear and anxiety.
Sensory Integration techniques can help kids cope with these overwhelming feelings.
It’s well known that Sensory Integration techniques can help kids calm down, get to sleep, and even do better in school. These techniques can also calm agitated feelings, the same way that a bear hug or holding tight to someone’s hand can help people feel a little safer inside.
Here are some activities and adaptations to try when your children are feeling anxious, jittery or fearful:
- Give kids a “womb space.” Overwhelmed children will frequently seek out a womb space themselves — crawling under the teacher’s desk, making a pillow fort and climbing in, hiding out in a closet or even just curling into a ball in the corner. Provide lots of safe, small, comfortable spaces where your kids can retreat if the world seems too scary, loud or overwhelming. Even a blanket can work if you’re someplace like in the car.
- Use aromatherapy. Put a few drops of a calming essential oil (real, not synthetic) like lavender, chamomile or a citrus oil on light bulbs or in a diffuser.
- Change the lights. Dim them, make them brighter or switch from fluorescent lights (which agitate many people) to incandescent.
- Give your child a physical outlet such as running. This is especially helpful if the “fight or flight” response to panic has kicked in.
- Give your child some weight. Weighted blankets, vests, or stuffed animals can all be grounding if kids can wear them, lie under them or hold them on their laps. These are typically filled with BBs, fish tank gravel or something similarly heavy.
- Give kids something to fidget with. If they occupy their hands, it can help channel some of that nervous energy. Small rubbery hand toys and pencil toppers are good.
- Use massage. Massage can be extremely calming and comforting to anxious kids. Research shows that blood pressure and stress hormones are actually lower after a massage.
- Use exercise. Swimming is especially calming, providing sensory input while also releasing pent up energy. Other types of exercise will also help redirect both mind and body, plus will release feel-good endorphins to counteract the stress.
- Let them chew gum. Gum has been found to have a number of startling benefits, from increasing test scores to calming phobias. Look for a relatively natural gum, so you’re not overloading your kids’ bodies with artificial flavors, sweeteners and colors that can harm them in other ways.
- Encourage them to expend their energy. Encourage kids to spin, jump, rock, bounce and otherwise use their bodies.
- Let them wear shades. Sunglasses can help kids when the world feels too bright and overstimulating. They can also help when the lighting is bothersome but can’t be changed.
- Provide sensory seating. Bean bag chairs, hammocks and papasans can meet sensory needs by providing deep pressure and a sort of womb space feeling of being enveloped.
- Turn down the noise. If that’s not possible, younger children may benefit from noise canceling headphones. White noise can also help calm some children.
- Use touch. Different forms of touch can be very calming for some children. Try bear hugs, back rubs or letting your child squeeze your hand.
Experiment with different changes to see which ones help your child most.
Remember, these techniques will help kids cope with anxiety, stress and fears at the time, but they won’t take the place of therapy or other methods to get to the root of the cause of these issues if your child has a serious anxiety disorder.