If you or someone you know has experienced anxiety, you’re aware of how it can manifest in different ways: Shaky hands, itchy skin, sleepless nights, tightness in the chest, negative thoughts on a loop — the list goes on and on. As adults, we understand that what we’re feeling is likely a side-effect of stress or fear and that if we have the tools to calm our minds and change our perspective, the nerves will subside. But anxious children can’t always navigate their worries on their own, so if you’re a parent grasping for straws on how to help kids with anxiety, you’ve come to the right place.
According to CDC statistics, 7.1% of children between the ages of three and 17 years old in the United States have anxiety. However, that doesn’t account for all the children experiencing feelings of anxiety that go undiagnosed, a detail that clinical psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Bethany Cook says is worth noting.
“[That number] doesn’t take into consideration two key elements,” Cook tells SPY. “First is the underreporting of anxiety by both children to their parents and parents to professionals often stemming from stigma toward mental illness or perceived weakness. The second is the pandemic has caused an increase in anxiety worldwide, and professionals are only beginning to scrape the surface of the needs of children post-pandemic.”
What Are the Signs Your Child May Be Struggling With Anxiety?
Before you start assessing your child’s symptoms, it’s important to know that there’s a difference between general anxiety and an anxiety disorder. According to renowned parenting expert, licensed educational psychologist, and board-certified behavior analyst Reena B. Patel, anxiety is a common, natural response to situations like everyday stressors. In these types of scenarios, you probably have control over your fear and can bounce back from it. Anxiety disorder is a diagnosed mental illness in which you experience feelings of anxiety for a period of six months or more.
“[Anxiety disorder] is pervasive,” Patel tells SPY. “It happens across settings and impacts your daily routine. You have constant panic attacks. You have a fear of being in public, phobias, and or physical symptoms that impact your overall well-being. These fears and anxiety cause significant problems in areas of their life, such as social interactions and school.”
Anxieties in children stem from the most relevant things in their lives. These can include worrying about recess or lunchtime, birthday parties, time with friends, riding the bus, separation from their parents, concerns over the health of a loved one, their safety, getting sick or getting hurt, etc., Patel says. The more consistent the fear, the greater its effect on a child’s well-being and can transpire into symptoms like poor sleeping and eating habits, nail-biting, lack of energy, headaches, dizziness, rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, etc. In worst-case scenarios, Cook adds kids might turn to self-harm or self-destructive behaviors.
How to Help Kids With Anxiety
If you start to detect anxiety symptoms in your child, the first (and best) thing to do as a parent is to remain calm in that moment. You are your child’s rock, and now more than ever is when they’ll look to you to model calm through the chaos, Cook explains. Your second order of business is to find coping mechanisms that will help your child manage their anxiety in the long run. Doing research, joining online groups, or seeking professional help are all great places to start, Cook says, and finding fidget toys and other products that can help kids with anxiety self-soothe in particularly worrisome moments.
Below, we’ve rounded up some of the best toys and products to help kids with anxiety without medication.
1. Alpaca Kin by Slumberkins
Cuddy, cute and offering several soothing and child-friendly books and stuffies to help kids understand and talk about their feelings, Slumberkins was co-founded by Kelly Oriard, a Licensed Family Therapist. Slumberkins makes several products to help kids understand and voice their emotions, including the Alpaca Kin, which helps with stress and managing anxiety.
SPY spoke to Oriard about the Alpaca Kin and received a sample of the uber-soft stuffy and beautiful book titled Alpaca Will Be There. “Research has proven that talking about worries and fears with a trusted confidant can help ease the emotional weight that we all carry,” Oriard told SPY. “Our cuddly creature Alpaca and its story focus on stress-relief and teaches kids that through resiliency and connection, we are strong, supported, and can face tough challenges. Alpaca is modeled after traditional worry dolls and is there to be that trusted confidant when he is needed. What makes Alpaca unique is that he highlights that hard times aren’t fun, but they are where we learn and grow. Alpaca also lets us know that naming our feelings and sharing them with those who love us lightens our emotional load.”
2. hand2mind PAWZ The Calming Pup
HELPS WITH MINDFUL BREATHING
Teaching young children about mindful breathing can help them develop a lifelong tool to ease anxiety. Sydney Stensland, Development Editor at hand2mind, spoke to SPY about PAWZ The Calming Pup, designed to help children with their breathwork. SPY received a sample of PAWZ, and we liked how easy it is for adults to set up and that its child-friendly design doubles as a nightlight.
“Toys focused on cultivating a child’s social-emotional development can help foster a sense of comfort, safety, and calm,” Stensland told SPY. “Pawz has a gentle glow and irresistible squish, making it the perfect tool for even very young children to practice mindfulness and intentional breathing. Pawz uses colorful light patterns to provide visual reinforcement, transforming something abstract, like a breathing exercise, into a concrete experience. With the support of a friend like Pawz, children can more deeply connect with their emotions and be prepared to work through feelings of anxiety in everyday situations.”
3. Just Play Turning Red Many Moods of Mei
BEST FOR OLDER KIDS
Pre-teens and teenagers may feel embarrassed that they still want to hold a stuffed animal when feeling anxious, which is why we like the Just Play Turning Red Many Moods of Mei stuffy. The new Pixar film Turning Red is geared toward the older age group and follows 13-year-old Mei, who finds herself shape-shifting into a red panda when she gets emotional. The red plush panda says phrases from the film and can help bring comfort to young children — and their older siblings. You’re never too old for a stuffy.
4. iClever TransNova Kids Bluetooth Headphones
BEST FOR NOISE SENSITIVTIES
When feelings of anxiety begin setting in, kids may find comfort in listening to some calming music, an audiobook, or even just blocking out noise. SPY received a sample of the iClever TransNova Kids Bluetooth Headphones. We were impressed by how comfortable they felt even after wearing them for hours (a 3-year-old and adult both tested them, and both found them comfortable). The iClever has a volume limit to protect young listeners’ ears, includes a mic, has 45 hours of playtime, includes Bluetooth connectivity for cord-free listening and comes with replaceable light-up plates that kids will love.
BEST SCREEN-FREE ENTERTAINMENT
For kids who don’t like the feeling of headphones but still find comfort in listening to their favorite music or audiobooks when feeling anxious, we recommend the Jooki. The screen-free speaker, which pairs with headphones, comes with brightly colored plastic tokens that parents can customize with playlists. Kids place the token on the top of the Jooki to hear the playlist, increase or decrease volume, and skip to the next track using the two controls on the Jooki. SPY received a sample of the Jooki, and we were impressed by the kid-friendly design, which was lightweight, portable, and safe for kids ages 3 and up to use.
6. Just Play Sensory FX Sticks
BEST FOR SCHOOL
Fidget toys provide a calming effect thanks to their pleasing sensations, including touch and sound, but bringing toys to school can be a no-no. The Just Play Sensory FX Sticks are appropriate for school since they double as a writing instrument. Available in eight designs, the fidget-friendly sensory sticks can be twisted, clicked, snapped and pulled to help keep anxious hands busy.
7. Step2 Spill & Splash Seaway Water Table
BEST FOR OUTDOOR USE
Working with your hands is an excellent way to quiet feelings of anxiety, which makes a water table a great addition to any home with children dealing with anxiety. The Step2 Spill & Splash Seaway Water Table has two separate sections, giving parents the option to use water, regular sand, kinetic sand, water beads, or another calming medium that allow kids to use their hands. An attached umbrella gives parents the option to keep the table outside while still providing shade for little ones.
8. Melissa & Doug Primary Lacing Beads
BEST FOR FINE MOTOR SKILLS
Another product that helps young children by using their hands is the Melissa & Doug Primary Lacing Beads set. The large wooden beads and colorful laces give children as young as 3 years old a project to focus on whether they are at home, in the car, or traveling. The set is excellent for developing fine motor skills, and they can re-use the open-ended toy.
9. Outree Kids Hanging Swing Seat Hammock
BEST FOR KIDS WITH SENSORY SENSITIVITIES
The Outree Kids Hanging Swing Seat Hammock is designed for children with sensory disorders, but it can be a soothing and comforting place for any child to spend time, including those who suffer from anxiety. The sensory swing includes an inflatable seat that helps raise kids up and gives them a comfortable place to sit. The Outree offers kids up to 100 pounds a safe and secure environment for reading, streaming, or just taking a few moments to collect their thoughts.
10. hand2mind Express My Feelings Journal
BEST FOR JOURNALING
Young children are still learning how to express their emotions, including understanding their anxiety, which is why we like the hand2mind Express My Feelings Journal. Designed for ages 5 and up, the journal is filled with child-friendly prompts and lessons to help kids identify and name their feelings, reflect on how they’re feeling and learn tips and tricks to deal with big emotions. You can find plenty of activities that promote mindfulness and suggestions for actions in this kid-friendly journal.
11. Daniel Tigers Neighborhood: Daniel’s Many Feeling’s Magna-Tiles Structure Set
BEST OPEN-ENDED PLAY
Magna-Tiles are among the most popular open-ended toys for kids and hit several age groups, making them an excellent investment for parents. CreateOn has released several special edition Magna-Tiles, including their recent Daniel Tigers Neighborhood edition that helps kids name and express their feelings. SPY received a sample of the tiles, which work with all Magna-Tiles, and we liked that they include expressive pictures of the Daniel Tiger characters depicting different emotions. Parents can build structures with their kids while gently working on the topic of anxiety, giving young children pictures and words to help express their feelings.
Daniel Tigers Neighborhood: Daniel’s Many Feeling’s Magna-Tiles Structure Set
12. Good Day Chocolate Calm for Kids
This writer is a firm believer that there’s no problem chocolate can’t fix, and clearly, the team at Good Day agrees. These calming candies are the brainchild of a double board-certified medical doctor who strived to create a whole-food alternative to gummy supplements and pills. Made with Fair-Trade milk chocolate, non-GMO ingredients, plus a soothing combination of L-theanine and chamomile flower, Good Day claims these kid-friendly poppables naturally relax anxious children ages three years and older. And if you’re worried about a sugar high (followed by a sugar crash), no need. These chill chocolate gems (candy-coated with colors sourced from fruits and vegetables) consist of only 2g of sugar per piece.
13. AN Kids Weighted Blanket
BEST WEIGHTED BLANKET
Sometimes all it takes is a friendly, warm hug to make a child (or adult!) feel comforted in times of anxiety. Unfortunately, it’s not always feasible to hold onto your child for hours of the day, and that’s where the AN Kids Weighted Blanket comes in. It’s made from a blend of Oeko-Tex certified cotton and hypoallergenic cotton and is stuffed with non-toxic glass beads, resulting in a seven-layered soft, breathable weighted blanket. Available in over 10 sizes, kids of all ages and sizes can snuggle up under this blanket on restless nights when sleep isn’t coming easily or wear it around their shoulders when they need an extended hug.
14. What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety
BEST SELF-HELP BOOK
Often when a child experiences feelings of anxiety, they don’t understand their emotions, let alone know how to work through a nervous episode. In this installment of the Magination Press’s What-to-Do Guides for Kids series, psychologist and author Dawn Huebner, Ph.D., guides children and parents through the same helpful cognitive-behavioral techniques often used in the professional treatments of anxiety. The interactive self-help book is written and illustrated for kids ages 6-12 years old and includes easy-to-follow steps and prompts that guide and give readers the tools they need to overcome their worries.
What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety
$16.99 23% Off
15. Fidget Dodecagon
BEST FIDGET TOY
Remember fidget spinners? Consider this toy a less aggressive (re: potentially dangerous) alternative. A similar concept to the ever-enticing bubble wrap, the Fidget Dodecagon offers gears, buttons, silicone popping balls, joysticks and more to keep anxious hands busy. Designed to help kids and adults with anxiety, ADHD, ADD, OCD and those on the Autism spectrum, the Fidget Dodecagon is pocket-sized, quiet, and available in several colors.
Read More: The Best Push-Pop Fidget Toys
16. We Are Knitters Row Row Snood for Kids
BEST FOR CRAFTY KIDS
Activities like knitting and crocheting are great for kids with anxiety because they’re hands-on and keep their minds focused on the creative task in front of them. And while fidget toys serve a similar purpose, something like the We Are Knitters Row Row Snood for Kids has an end goal that, when met, will instill a sense of accomplishment in your child.
17. Mindful Affirmations and Activities
BEST ACTIVITY BOOK
Setting positive affirmations and implementing mindfulness exercises into your child’s daily routine are great ways to help reduce your child’s anxiety levels. However, because many kids have so much pent-up energy, persuading them to sit and reflect on their feelings through something like meditation can be almost impossible. Pragya Tomar’s activity book, Mindful Affirmations and Activities, offers kids with anxiety a hands-on approach to these practices. With coloring pages, mindfulness exercises, loving affirmations, mantras to boost self-esteem, and journaling prompts, each of the book’s 150 pages is a safe space for children ages 5-12 years old to explore their feelings and foster personal growth.
18. Creativity for Kids Hide & Seek Rock Painting Kit
COMBINES CRAFTS AND FIDGET TOYS
For whatever reason, kids love to paint rocks (cut to this writer’s OG collection dotted with glitter glue). However silly as it may be, Cook tells SPY she actually suggests parents have their child find a small rock or stone (maybe a crystal) and have them decorate it as another anti-anxiety technique. “Talk to them about how this rock is now a “pocket-anxiety-portal,” which sends their anxiety into outer space whenever they press or rub it with their fingers,” Cook suggests. “Essentially, you’re creating a fidget item for them to focus their anxiety energy towards in a way that also promotes the feeling of release and moving forward.”
19. Housbay Glows White Noise Sound Machine
HELPS WITH SLEEP
If your child’s anxieties tend to keep them awake at night, it might be time to invest in a sound machine. This option from Housbay is excellent for all ages, but its nightlight feature makes it especially soothing for children who wake up in the middle of the night. The type of sound, volume level, light color, light mode, and brightness level are all customizable, and the device can run on either a non-stop loop or timer. And while the Housbay Glows is a white noise machine, sound options include 17 nature sounds, seven white noises, and seven fan sounds, so your child can choose which helps them fall (and stay) asleep best when they need extra soothing.
20. Winnie & Her Worries
HELPS KIDS AND ADULTS
When a child is going through a bout of anxiety, it can be helpful to sit them down with a book that illustrates exactly what they’re feeling and that they aren’t alone in their struggles. In Winnie & Her Worries by Reena B. Patel, a young girl named Winnie explains the thoughts that make her happy, the thoughts that make her worried, and how the latter directly affects her brain and body. The striking narrative serves as a toolbox for children, parents, and teachers to better help them work through and gain control over their emotions.