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9 Tips For Helping Your Child Manage Anxiety

9 Tips For Helping Your Child Manage Anxiety

Parents want nothing more than to see childhood remain a time of carefree wonder and joy for their children, an age of innocence wherein the troubles of the wider world are kept at a safe distance by caring adult oversight.

As such, the parents who have anxious children are faced with a difficult dilemma: How do they protect their children from the multitude of relatively “normal” activities (e.g. going to school, socializing with friends) that provoke anxiety and fear while also ensuring that they experience life fully and develop properly? How do they help their child manage anxiety?

There are no easy answers to the above question. Psychologist Tali Shenfield, PhD suggests that parents first evaluate the level of child’s anxiety with a free child anxiety screening test and then, depending on test results, use the following anxiety management strategies:

1. An “empathy first” approach

When most parents hear their child expressing irrational fears, their first response is to assure their child that, logically, there is nothing to worry about. While this act is well-intentioned, it’s usually ineffective; the brain of any anxious individual – young or old – is too engaged in the “fight or flight” response (wherein activity in the prefrontal cortex, the “logical” part of the brain, is suppressed) to properly process new information.

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What an anxious child therefore really needs is a parent who simply feels with him- one who pauses with him, joins him in taking a few deep breaths, and then validates his emotions as being acceptable.

Once you have empathized with your child and he has visibly calmed down, then and only then should you look for possible solutions. Do this while engaging your child: Ask him what he thinks would help him to feel better and overcome his fears.

2. Avoid making your child feel like a problem to be fixed

Children – even children without chronic anxiety – frequently struggle with fears of being “different” from their peers or unacceptable to their parents. If your child feels like his anxiety means something is “wrong” with him, his issues with worry will only increase as he will be plagued by constant self-doubt.

To prevent the above from happening, avoid labelling your child (i.e. don’t call him an “anxious person” or a “worrier”); instead, explain to him fear’s historically beneficial role in protecting us from harm (i.e. our instincts once helped us to avoid predators in the wild).

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Ideally, you should teach your child to see worry like a tool: It’s useful in some situations, but in others, our brains are simply reacting to “false alarms” due to instinct. Tell your child that it’s possible to learn a few simple methods for recognizing these false alarms and for dealing with them effectively.

3. Consider using play to help your child understand his anxiety

Role playing exercises, such as having your child create a character which embodies his worry, can help your child learn how to dismantle his anxieties. Use a toy (such as a doll or stuffed animal) to represent the character your child creates, then you and your child can sit together and practice talking the character out of his misplaced fears. Make sure that every time the character succeeds in overcoming his anxiety during the stories created for him, he ends up with a “happy ending” as a result.

4. Teach your child how to centre himself in reality

Our fears have a way of distorting reality, making situations appear much scarier than they actually are. To help your child overcome the mind’s innate tendency to exaggerate objects of worry, teach him to:

  1. Recognize worried thoughts as they happen. Visualization is useful here: Tell your child to imagine thoughts floating above his head in “thought bubbles,” then ask him to practice catching the fearful thoughts as they pop up.
  1. Deconstruct the thoughts he catches using factual evidence. Emphasize to your child that feelings are not facts. When faced with a worry, tell your child that he should weigh up factual evidence for and against what his mind is telling him (for example, if he fears failing a test, he should review the many times he has passed tests over the years and remind himself that he has studied thoroughly, making failure unlikely).
  1. Debate with his thoughts (if necessary). Using the facts he has just gathered, you child can debate with the worried thoughts his mind is producing until he eventually wins and overcomes them.

5. Allow your child to worry

The more your child feels as though he should be able to simply shove his worries away, the more he will believe he is somehow failing when he cannot. You should therefore avoid saying things like, “There’s no reason to be afraid” and instead encourage your child to express his worries.

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Creating a “worry diary” is an excellent strategy for getting your child to vent what’s bothering him; have him spend 15 minutes a day writing down any worry that is weighing on him – no matter how small – and allow him to share those worries with you if he wishes. At the end of the 15 minutes, have him literally close the book on his worries and set them aside.

6. Affirm the importance of remaining in the present moment

Like anxious adults, anxious children spend a lot of time preoccupied with “what ifs.” Instruct your child to try to catch his “what if” thoughts and replace them with “what is” thoughts. For example, if he’s thinking, “What if my new friend stops liking me?” he should pause, focus on nothing but his breath for a few moments, then look around and take in “what is”: The sun shining as he waits for the bus, the sound of the birds in the trees, the feeling of the warm air.

Intentionally returning one’s focus to the present in this way (by focusing on sensory perceptions) is a form of Mindfulness, a popular therapeutic practice which has been repeatedly shown to lessen anxiety.

7. Help your child take “baby steps” in order to overcome fearful situations

It is usually impossible – and always unhelpful – for an anxious individual to avoid everything that is causing him anxiety. Instead, your child should try the “ladder” approach: Overcoming fearful situations by working up to them in a succession of small steps.

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If your child is afraid of dogs, for instance, have him start by observing a familiar dog (one that belongs to a friend, for example) from a distance, then have him walk closer to the dog while it’s safely leashed, then have him try to pet the dog while another person is still holding the leash, and then finally, let him interact with the dog briefly while it’s off its leash. If this process is repeated a few times with a few different friendly dogs, your child will likely overcome his terror.

8. Have your child create a “calm down” checklist

Ask your child to write down a series of steps to take when he needs to calm down (e.g. pause, breathe deeply, count to ten, evaluate the facts of the situation, etc.), so that he has something clear to refer to when he begins to feel panicky and confused. Make sure that your child carries a copy of this checklist with him until he memorizes the steps.

9. Don’t blame yourself for your child’s anxiety

Many parents of anxious children wonder if they have somehow “caused” their child to become excessively fearful, but this is usually not the case: Genetics and environmental factors over which parents have limited control (bullying at school, for example, or a traumatic accident) often lie at the root of childhood anxiety – not “bad parenting.”

It’s important to avoid blaming yourself for your child’s anxiety; the more you do so, the more emotional you will become about the situation and the less able you will be to help your child stay calm (your own worry will eventually cause you to become reactive, which will affirm your child’s idea that there is something to be afraid of). Instead, see yourself as your child’s ally, a member of his team as he fights against anxiety.

Remember, being compassionate to yourself, as well as to your child, is essential when creating a calm, loving, and healthy home for your whole family. If you find yourself struggling to cope with your child’s anxiety, don’t go it alone – seek the aid of friends, family members, and if necessary, a mental health professional. With the right support, you and your child can triumph over irrational fears and live full, happy lives.

Featured photo credit: Albumarium via albumarium.com

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Last Updated on July 12, 2018

17 Ted Talks for Kids to Inspire Little Minds to Do Big Things

17 Ted Talks for Kids to Inspire Little Minds to Do Big Things

A few years ago, I watched Brene Brown’s TED Talk on Vulnerability. Her story, her research, her authenticity, and yes, her vulnerability resonated with me deeply. One of the concepts that stood out the most was that in order to live wholeheartedly, we must feel the full range of emotions. The positive: joy, gratitude, happiness. And the not so positive: grief, fear, shame, sadness, disappointment.

This talk moved me, changed me and challenged me to think differently. And that is what TED talks have the power to do. They can make the hairs on the back of our neck stand up, bring us to tears, and most importantly, motivate, inspire and challenge our thinking.

Which is why I’m so excited to share these TED Talks for kids. I’ve always had a passion for working with children; I have three daughters of my own, co-lead two local Girl Scout Troops, spent time in my career working in education and am a member of the Galileo community advisory board (an innovation camp for kids).

I’m involved in all of these because I feel deeply how important it is to help our kids build their confidence, self-esteem, innovation and creativity. I want every kid to realize they are awesome just as they are. That they have the ability to make anything happen if they dream big and work hard. Imagine what that would do for our youth.

If you Google or scour lists of top TED talks, you tend to get similar ones popping up. That’s because they’re awesome. But they’re not all appropriate for kids.

How I shortlisted these TED Talks

I’ve done the hard work for you. Along with my family, kids, their friends and a few others, we vetted over 100 TED Talks and picked out the 17 that I believe send powerful and inspiring messages our kids desperately need.

So, whether your kid is 6 or 16, I hope you find something that inspires, moves, motivates and challenges them.

  • They’re short enough for young brains to stay engaged. While there is an 18 minute “rule” for TED talks, many of the most popular talks are 20+ minutes. Recently, as I toured middle schools for my daughters, one of the principals shared that a kid’s attention span is the kids age minus one. So, if you have an 11 year old, then 10 minutes is his/her attention span. You can’t expect him/her to listen to 18 minutes and stay focused the whole time. All of the talks highlighted below are under 15 minutes. Some are as short as three.
  • They all include life lessons I believe are important for today’s youth. For me, this meant searching for talks that would build confidence and self-esteem; help kids be true to themselves. Understand what makes a happy and successful life. How to dream big. To communicate, interact and treat others. Above all, these talks will help kids see that they are awesome and that anything is possible when they dream big and work hard.
  • They’re kid-friendly. You might think this is obvious, but I found many speakers share political views, curse, or share content or concepts that that could be scary or confusing for young minds. If you ask those around me, I’m probably a little overcautious about what I expose my kids too. I’m ok with that. They have plenty of time to see the darker side of the world as they age. I would be comfortable with my seven-year-old watching all of these.
  • They’re interesting. Kids need to be engaged, interested and motivated to even sit through a video. While this isn’t always easy to do, I’ve tried to find videos with likeable speakers, compelling topics and inspiring stories. And don’t worry, they’re not just for kids – these are awesome talks for adults as well.

Top 17 Ted Talks for kids

1. A Life Lesson From A Volunteer Firefighter (4:01)

I started with this one because all of my kids absolutely loved it. It’s an easy entry point for kids – short and sweet with a powerful message. (And what kid doesn’t like a firefighter?!)

Volunteer Firefighter and Activist Mark Bezos shares his story about how small things can make a big difference.

My 11-year-old’s key takeway? “It shows we don’t have to do something big to make a difference”.

Here’s a key piece of his message:

“In both my vocation at Robin Hood and my avocation as a volunteer firefighter, I am witness to acts of generosity and kindness on a monumental scale, but I’m also witness to acts of grace and courage on an individual basis. And you know what I’ve learned? They all matter.”

2. What Adults Can Learn From Kids (8:06)

One of my 11-year-olds was riveted by this one. In fact, at one point, I tried to increase the volume on the iPad while she kept pushing me out of the way so she didn’t miss anything.

Twelve-year-old Adora Svitak is incredible. This talk is inspiring not only because of what she says, but because of how incredible and confident this young girl is as she presents.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from her talk:

“Kids don’t think about limitations…they just think about good ideas.”
“Learning between grown-ups and kids should be reciprocal.”
“When expectations are low, trust me, we (kids) will sink to them.”

3. Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection (8:50)

Recommended by several people when I was asking around, I found myself choking up in the first two minutes as Reshma shares her personal story about bravery in the face of failure.

“This is not a story about failure or resilience…it’s about bravery.”

She talks about our “bravery deficit”.

“When we teach girls to be brave, and we have a supportive network cheering them on, they will build incredible things.”

She shares one of my favorite philosophies: Progress, not perfection.

This is a great one for those who need a little more confidence to raise their hand, try out for that team, or face an upcoming challenge.

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4. 10 Ways To Have a Better Conversation (11:30)

This is one of my all-time favorites. I’m becoming increasingly concerned about our kids’ ability to have a face-to-face conversation. Just look around at a restaurant and see how many kids have their faces in phones. One recent survey of managers said 46% of recent grads need to hone their communication skills.

As someone who spent many years earning a living helping people communicate better, I think this is necessary for every kid. It’s a lost art. A skill that is becoming extinct with the world of technology.

Radio Host Celeste Headlee provides great tips for how to have a better conversation, and, more importantly, how to listen.

At one point, she shares this thought written in the Atlantic by a high school teacher named Paul Barnewell.

“I came to realize that conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach. Kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and each other through screens, but rarely do they have an opportunity to hone their interpersonal communications skills. It might sound like a funny question, but we have to ask ourselves: Is there any 21st Century skill more important than being able to sustain coherent, confident conversation?”

My older daughters both really enjoyed this talk. They learned “how important it is to listen and to think about other people, not just yourself”.

My favorite line of all time: “There’s no reason to show you’re paying attention, if in fact, you are actually paying attention.”

This is a great one to share with your teenagers – even if you need to text them the link?

5. A Promising Test for Pancreatic Cancer… From A Teenager (10:46)

I just love this one. Jack shares his story, how as a teenager he searched for and found a promising cure for pancreatic cancer. Motivated by the death of a close family friend, Jack shows some of my favorite attributes: thinking, process, initiative, perseverance, determination, courage…and humor. He’s a fantastic speaker and will keep your kids interested and engaged.

One of my favorite quotes:

“You don’t have to be a professor with multiple degrees to have your ideas valued…Just imagine what you could do.”

“He did that all by himself?” One of my daughters asked at the end. Yep, he did. And you can, too.

6. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (6:09)

With three kids, I’m always driving a car full of kids somewhere. As I was researching for this article, during each of my rides, I took the opportunity to ask whoever was in the car about their recommendations. This talk was recommended by a 16-year-old high school student. (Thank you, Bella!) I had seen it before and was so glad she liked it as much as I did.

Angela Lee Duckworth left her consulting career and became a 7th grade math teacher in the New York public school system. She was fascinated by what helped students succeed. This talk is the story of what she found.

Here’s a quick preview:

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. “

Need another reason to share this with your kid? Angela highlights that kids with grit are more likely to graduate…and be successful in their chosen careers.

We all know how important grit and perseverance are; let’s help our children see that.

7. Dare To Dream Big (8:49)

With just over 22,000 views, this video hasn’t hit “mainstream” TED world yet, but Isabella Rose Taylor, a freshman in college and a working fashion designer, tells a fantastic story.

“Today I want to talk to you about dreams and stories.”

She shares one of my favorite stories about the 4-minute mile and how belief is such an important part of success.

“They didn’t all the sudden get faster or stronger, they just believed it was possible.”

The rest of her talk is filled with lessons on dreaming big, believing in yourself, courage, authenticity, and the importance of relationships.

“We should aim as high as possible and dream big.”

Yes. We. Should.

8. Yup, I built a nuclear fusion reactor (3:26)

Even the title shows the confidence that 17-year-old Nuclear Physicist Taylor Wilson has. As he says…and proves,

“Kids can really change the world.”

I love his passion and confidence. He started out with a dream and ended up meeting the President.

9. Underwater Astonishments (5:18)

While this may not have any explicit life lessons, it’s incredibly interesting and fun to watch with kids. Approved by my 7-year-old, who said, “It was very interesting and I liked the pictures. I didn’t know an octopus could do that.”

The underlying lesson? For me, it shows how everything is incredible. When we look for beauty and awe, we will find it.

I also think it’s fascinating as Geologist David Gallow shares:

“And in a place where we thought no life at all, we find more life…there’s still 97 percent, and either that 97 percent is empty or just full of surprises.”

This teaches kids that there is so much in life and in their world to discover.

10. What Makes A Good Life? Lessons From the Longest Study on Happiness (12:40)

I’d say this talk is better for older kids. Robert Waldinger shares what makes a good life, from the longest study in history on happiness.

If your kids are having a hard time getting into it, head to 5:51 for the highlights:

“So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

I love the focus on the importance of relationships and friendships.

11. The Happy Secret To Better Work (12:14)

Positive Psychologist Shawn Achor is funny, fast and witty. He begins his talk with an incredibly funny story about his sister and him when they were little.

He shares that:

“90 percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, we can change the way that we can then affect reality.”

If you want to get to the essence, head to 9:09 for his suggestions.

This is another one that’s probably best for older kids and teenagers.

12. Weird, or Just Different? (2:35)

The shortest talk on this list, Derek Sivers talks about the power of perspective. It teaches kids that we all have a different lens through which we see the world and we need to be aware of our assumptions and bias.

One of Derek’s thoughts:

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There’s a saying that whatever true thing you can say about India, the opposite is also true. So, let’s never forget…that whatever brilliant ideas you have or hear, that the opposite may also be true.

My daughter’s thoughts: “It shows we can both be right.” YES.

13. Living Beyond Limits (9:44)

When I said earlier that I would let my 7-year-old watch all of these talks, this might be my one exception. Amy Purdy’s message is incredible but with an illness and near-death experience, it could be scary for little ones.

When she was just 19, Amy got bacterial meningitis and after a long fight for her life, she survived, but lost both legs below the knee. Now, a pro-snowboarder, she shows how “It’s believing in those dreams and facing our fears head-on that allows us to live our lives beyond our limits.”

Her message:

“If your life was a book, and you were the author, how would you want your story to go?”

As my daughter and her friend watched this video, they loved Amy, were completely engaged by her story and got this lesson – “Don’t give up on our dreams just because something bad happens.”

14. 8 Secrets of Success (3:26)

In this short video, Analyst Richard St. John condenses a decade of research on success into three minutes. It’s a two-hour presentation he gives to high school students on what’s needed to be successful. Quick. Fast. Interesting with lots of great life lessons including serving, persisting, hard work and passion.

15. Nature. Beauty. Gratitude. (9:47)

The title says it all.

Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg’s beautiful cinematic time lapse imagery is paired with words of perspective from a little girl and an elderly man about what makes life so beautiful.

It may feel slow for some kids, but contains a compelling and valuable message.

I loved when the little girl shared her perspective about why we should be exploring nature and not watching TV and when the elderly gentlemen shared these thoughts:

“You think this is just another day in your life? It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness.”

Kids might also find it interesting why we say OMG. I did.

16. Why Some Of Us Don’t Have One True Calling (12:26)

This is a great talk, especially for high school students who are trying to figure out what to do with their life! In my coaching practice, this question still evokes a sense of stress, whether someone is going into high school, graduating from college, or in a mid-life career change.

Emilie’s powerful message:

If you have multiple dreams, goals and interests, “There’s nothing wrong with you. What you are, is a multipotentialite. Someone with many interests and creative pursuits.”

The statistics back up this concept. Studies have shown that only 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their major; the average person changes jobs 10-15 times during his or her career; and people change careers anywhere from 3-7 times over the course of their lifetime.

Emilie then goes on to share the skills and benefits of being a multipotentialite, complete with examples of successful individuals who have created a life that works for them.

My absolute favorite message from this talk is one that I’m deeply aligned with in my coaching practice:

“We should all be designing lives and careers that are aligned with how we’re wired… Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life.”

Amen.

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17. How I Harnessed the Wind (5:52)

Incredible and inspiring. At the age of 14, William Kamkwamba, with very little education or resources, motivated by poverty and famine, created a windmill to power his family’s home. As he looked at his life, he felt that what he was living was a fate he couldn’t accept. So rather than live the life he was “destined” to live, he decided to change it.

Not only is this story about courage, drive and innovation, it will also help kids gain perspective about what others in the world are facing on a daily basis.

He closes with these words of wisdom:

“I would like to say something to all the people out there like me, to the Africans, and the poor who are struggling with your dreams. God bless. Maybe one day you will watch this on the Internet. I say to you, trust yourself and believe. Whatever happens, don’t give up.”

BONUS: I Think We All Need a Pep Talk (3:28)

Ok, so it’s not officially a TED Talk, but it was on their site[1] and I just had to include it! Many of you have probably seen this Soul Pancake video before. I don’t need to say much. Just watch it.

Here are three of my favorite lines from 9-year old “Kid President”:

“We’re all on the same team.”
“We were made to be awesome.”
“Give the world a reason to dance, so get to it.”

Now What? Watch these with your kids!

Now that you’ve read through these options, it’s time to pick a few and watch them with your kid(s). I recommend you choose three that are relevant to your family, a situation your kid is in, a life lesson you feel is important for them to learn, or something that you’re just excited to share.

That’s the easy part. Now you have to get them to watch it!

Here are a few recommendations for sharing these with your kids:

1. Share your thoughts and a few W’s

Who is this talk about, why you think it’s important for them to watch and what you think they’ll find interesting. Get them hooked before they watch it. Giving them high-level context will not only get them interested, but get their minds primed for learning.

2. After you watch the video, have a discussion.

Not sure what to ask? Here are some ideas:

  • What did you think of the video?
  • What did you enjoy?
  • What do you think motivated this speaker to speak on this topic?
  • What did you learn?
  • What do you think you’ll do differently as a result of watching this?

3. Ask them to stick with it and be patient.

When I started testing these with my daughters, I could see in the first minute they were wondering if they really wanted to do this. I asked them to be patient, keep an open mind and stick with it. Once they got through the initial, “Ugh, Mom!”…. they enjoyed watching.

Lucky for you, the ones they couldn’t get through didn’t make this cut! Watch one (maybe two) at time. Stick with the age minus one rule.

I loved researching these talks, watching them with my kids and their friends, and hearing their thoughts and reactions. I hope they provide a great discussion for you and your family, some inspiration for your kids and something that moves, motivates and challenges you both.

I’d love to hear which of these resonated with you and your kids – and if you have other favorite TED talks you think would be great for kids, please let me know!

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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