By Abi Berwager Schreier Sep. 2, 2020
I don’t know of anyone who isn’t struggling with some anxiety this year, and that includes kids — especially since their school lives are changing drastically, whether that means virtual learning or heading back to campus. Thankfully, there are grounding techniques for kids with anxiety to utilize, especially if they’re heading back to school in person.
Things are going to be looking very different for kids this year — everyone wearing masks, smaller classrooms, spaced out desks, and maybe even some plastic barriers. Lunch and recess might not be a great reprieve either. It’s not a stretch to assume that this may cause a bit of anxiety in our kids. I mean, it’s causing me anxiety thinking about it for them, and grounding techniques can definitely help with these feelings.
“Grounding techniques are strategies that help reduce uncomfortable feelings and sensations such as anxiety, worry, and stress. Grounding exercises can be mental, physical, or a combination of both,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Manly, Ph.D. Grounding helps you be in the moment and not stress about the past or future.
“This mindfulness-based approach prevents the child from focusing on negative possibilities and worrisome events in the future. And, as anxiety arises from a fear of a future event, ‘be in the present’ grounding strategies naturally alleviate anxiety by calming the child’s body and mind,” she says.
Basically, these techniques are meant to help a child stop and pause, says Maureen Healy, author and emotional coach.
Children can begin using these grounding techniques as young as 2 years old, which may be helpful for those toddlers heading back to day care soon. Manly says they can start as soon as they can mimic a parent’s behavior. “For example, a 2-year-old who is able to sit next to her mom for even a few minutes while the mom ‘belly breathes’ is practicing grounding skills,” Manly says. “A 3-year-old who is able to mindfully stretch next to daddy — if only for five minutes — is practicing a grounding technique. A 4-year-old who learns to enjoy tossing a ball gently back and forth to ease anxiety is also practicing grounding techniques,” she says. “That said, by the time a child is about 5 years old, the child can often consciously choose to engage in a grounding behavior that has been modeled by a parent or caregiver. This is why many toddlers will naturally go to a quiet spot to cuddle up with a toy or pet, or lay in the grass to breathe.”
Below you’ll find more examples of grounding techniques for kids with anxiety, and perhaps even parents can utilize these eight different techniques. Let’s face it, 2020 has definitely thrown everyone for a loop, and all families could use a little bit less anxiety.
- Using A Stress Ball
These have been around for forever, it seems, but they sure can be effective. Manly says to have the child gently squeeze the ball or toss it from one hand to the other to ease anxiety and stress. The act of focusing and concentrating is definitely grounding.
- Imagine Having Roots
This requires your child to stop and focus on an image in their head so they can feel grounded and safe. “Imagine they are trees, and beneath their feet they have roots — like a tree. These roots go to the center of the earth, and keep them feeling grounded on this planet. Solid, firm, and stable,” Healy says.
“Stretching is a simple activity that can be done almost anywhere,” says Manly. “Parents can teach children to do forward folds — bending over forward with the arms dangling or hands in opposite elbows ‘rag doll style’ — to ease anxiety and tension.”
Manly adds that another “simple, ground stretch is to reach upward toward the sky with both hands and then tilt (stretch) to the right, pause, and then tilt to the left.”
Healy says when a child isn’t focusing on the present and is stressing, ask them to do a labeling activity. “You can bring them back to the present moment by asking them to name things in their environment to ground them like, ‘pencil, notebook, window, chair, dog,’ and so on,” she says.
Obviously we have to breathe to stay alive, but this is concentrated, structured breathing. “One of my favorite breathing techniques that children love — and find very soothing — is called ‘pin dot breathing,'” Manly says. “The child imagines a tiny dot in the center of the forehead. As the child inhales deeply, the child focuses on the dot getting larger. As the child exhales slowly, the child imagines the dot getting very small again. This is repeated until the child feels calm.”
- Go For A Walk
To be honest, going for walks has been my saving grace during this whole ordeal, and I can totally see how this would help kids feel more grounded.
“Going for a walk slowly and mindfully is a grounding activity,” says Healy. “Walk slowly and maybe even make it a contest to see who can walk the slowest and feel their feet touching the ground with bare feet or walk softly with shoes.” She says it helps for them to be aware of when the top of their foot touches the ground and then the middle or heel of their foot. “So becoming aware of their steps, slowing down, and paying attention that every step matters.”
“Counting is an age-old grounding activity,” Manly says. “Whether counting sheep, various colors in the room, or the number of trees outside the window, counting games are terrific for decreasing anxiety and increasing a state of calm.”
- Use A “Grounding Kit”
“What I have come to term ‘grounding kits’ can be especially helpful for children as they return to school and day care settings,” Manly says. “The parent can create a special little packet for ’emergency’ use. Grounding kits can contain school-approved items such as a favorite, tiny painted rock, a picture of a pet, soothing lip balm, or other special, calm-inducing items.”
Manly says to have the child help select the items for the kit, because that will make it more meaningful and effective.
“These little grounding kits are often simple reminders for the child that the comforts of home are not far away. And, interestingly, it’s often enough for the child to know that the kit is close by in the event it’s needed; simply thinking about the grounding kit can be grounding in itself.”