If you’ve ever experienced or known someone who has experienced anxiety, then you know 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, 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 at 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,” Dr. 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 might 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,” Dr. Patel tells SPY. “It happens across settings, 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 things that are most relevant in their life. This 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 the effect they’ll have on a child’s wellbeing, 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, Dr. Cook adds kids might turn to self-harm or self-destructive behaviors.
How to help kids with anxiety
If you start to detect symptoms of anxiety 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, says Dr. Cook. Your second order of business is to find coping mechanisms that will help your child manage their anxiety in the long run. Doing research, join online groups, or seeking professional help are all great places to start, Cook says, as well as 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 products to help kids with anxiety without medication.
1. Winnie & Her Worries
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, and 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.
Winnie & Her Worries by Reena Patel
2. 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, 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 fruits and vegetables) consist of only 2g of sugar per piece.
Good Day Chocolate Calm for Kids
3. AN Kids Weighted Blanket
Sometimes all it takes is a nice 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.
AN Kids Weighted Blanket
4. What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety
Oftentimes 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 that are 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
5. GETEIN Push Pop Fidget Toy
Remember fidget spinners? Consider this toy a less aggressive (re: potentially dangerous) alternative. A similar concept to the ever-enticing bubble wrap, GETEIN’s Push Pop Fidget Toy consists of rows on rows of colorful, silicone bubbles that make a satisfying “popping” sound when you press down on them with your finger. It’s a pop-ular sensory toy that helps relieve stress and, at the same time, keeps kids entertained for hours. A win-win, wouldn’t you agree?
Read More: The Best Push-Pop Fidget Toys
6. We Are Knitters Row Row Snood for 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.
We Are Knitters Row Row Snood for Kids
7. Mindful Affirmations and Activities
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 a lot of 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.
Mindful Affirmations and Activities by Pragya Tomar
8. Creativity for Kids Hide & Seek Rock Painting Kit
For whatever reason, kids love to paint rocks (cut to this writer’s OG collection dotted with glitter glue). Silly as it may be, however, Dr. 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.”
Creativity for Kids Hide & Seek Rock Painting Kit
9. Housbay Glows White Noise Sound Machine
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 great for all ages, but its nightlight feature makes it especially soothing for kiddos 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 to be soothed.