By Courtney Tolinski, Ph.D., LP, NCSP
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns that I hear about from parents. This is a particular concern for children with a learning disability, as anxiety is highly comorbid (i.e. occurs simultaneously) with learning challenges. Anxiety can look different for children based on their age, specific worries and their ability to cope with it. However, for most families, these six tips are my best recommendations to help ease their child’s worries:
- Deep Breathing. While it’s often not a child’s first preference, deep breathing is an extremely effective tool in managing anxiety. For younger kids, I like to have them visualize something pleasant, such as “Smell the flowers, blow out the candles.” This helps to make deep breathing relatable and fun. For older kids, I recommend using the 4-7-8 breathing technique found here. Be sure to practice deep breathing with your child as a regular part of their day.
- Mindfulness. Paying attention to your thoughts and feelings is a critical skill in combating anxiety. For children and teens, I love guided meditations. These videos from Go Noodle are amazing for younger kids. Teens can use an app such as Calm or Headspace, which have free trials.
- Exercise. Anything your child can do to get their heart pumping for 60 minutes a day can help to lower their cortisol levels and aid in relaxation. While exercise can include something formal, such as a sport or class, it can also be a non-structured activity like a dance party, riding their bike or playing outside.
- Write/Draw it out. As many children with learning disabilities struggle with writing, I often tell parents to have their child draw how they feel. You can talk to your child about their choice of colors, ask them to tell you about their picture and draw alongside them. For older children, writing in a journal can be equally effective.
- Identify their Feelings. Often, children with a learning disability have difficulty understanding (let alone explaining) how they feel. Use a feelings chart and ask them to point to how they’re feeling today. For older children, you can teach them to use an I-Statement, such as “I feel scared when I make a mistake.”
- Therapy. If you’ve tried the first five tips and your child is still having major anxiety, the next step might be seeing a therapist. As anxiety is treated differently based on the nature of their worries, you’ll want to be sure that you’re seeing the right type of therapist. For referrals, I recommend asking your child’s school counselor, pediatrician or heading to Psychology Today.