Helping Your Child Through Stress and Anxiety

Anxious feelings and worries are normal and expected during times of transition or change. This is especially true for children and teens. School, homework, tests, social situations or doing something wrong can be stressors that cause anxiety in children.

Giving children the tools they need to cope with stressful situations can help them work through the “butterflies” in their stomach, sweaty palms and racing heart moments. As parents, you can help your child through these difficult times by putting a few practices in place to help make children feel secure and more at ease.

Three Techniques to Help Your Child Through Stress and Anxiety

Keep Daily Schedules and Routines the Same

It may not seem like much, but keeping children’s mealtimes, nap times, bedtimes and after-school homework routines consistent can have a positive impact on their mental health. Familiar activities can provide comfort for both children and adults during challenging times. These routines help children gain a sense of belonging, purpose and self-confidence.

Validate Your Child’s Feelings and Help Them Name Their Emotions

Taking an active role in listening to your child can provide them the support they need when facing anxiety. Asking questions like “Tell me what you’re feeling” and then giving your child your full attention may bring their concerns to the surface. Engage with your child to help them validate and identify what they are feeling. Responses like “You are feeling sad now, aren’t you” allows them to feel understood and supported.

Practice Calm Breathing Exercises with Your Child

When feeling anxious, our bodies naturally go into a fight or flight response. This causes short, quick, shallow breaths which can lead to hyperventilation, or “overbreathing” — a rate of breathing than can increase feelings of anxiety due to a racing heart, dizziness or headaches. Calm breathing is a great portable tool to teach children to help them get them through these uneasy times.

Calm Breathing in Action
Calm breathing involves taking smooth, slow, and regular breaths. Having your child sit upright is usually better than lying down or slouching, because it can increase the capacity of their lungs to fill with air.
  1. Ask your child to take a slow breath in through the nose, breathing into their lower belly (for about 4 seconds)
  2. Hold the breath for 1 or 2 seconds
  3. Exhale slowly through the mouth (for about 4 seconds)
  4. Wait a few seconds before taking another breath
About 6-8 breathing cycles per minute is often helpful to decrease anxiety but let them find their own comfortable breathing rhythm. These cycles regulate the amount of oxygen taken in so that they do not experience the fainting, tingling, and giddy sensations that are sometimes associated with overbreathing.

Your UPMC Children’s Community Pediatrics pediatrician is available to provide education and support for how to improve your child’s mental health. If needed, they will connect your family with one of our in-office behavioral health providers to discuss additional support services.