No one wants to be anxious. Still, so many of us are. The statistics say that about 1 in 20 people in the United States are diagnosed with some sort of anxiety disorder. That's not surprising considering all there is to worry about in the world.
But true anxiety isn't just a normal response to real stressors. It's when you worry about things irrationally and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prevent bad things from happening to the point that you can't enjoy good things that do occur in your life.
It's very difficult to say exactly how much we can do to prevent anxiety disorders because they're a complex mix of genetics, environment, and experiences. But because of new and exciting brain research, we're beginning to be able to pinpoint certain experiences that reduce anxiety and therefore the potential for anxiety disorder.
If you keep reading you'll see that although the research is complex, the experiences it suggests are simple and soothing for kids, teachers and parents alike. After more than 40 years of working in the field of early childhood and family education, here are some of my favorite anxiety quelling techniques.
Renowned neuroscientist, Dr. Richard Davidson is one of the most important names in the field of emotional health. He heads The Center For Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin Madison. He's researched the minds of young children, childcare teachers, and even the Dali llama to find out what works.
I combined my own yoga experience for kids with his mindfulness experience and got this super soothing activity.
Have the kids lie on floormats in a very quiet room with the lights dimmed and curtains drawn. Tell them to imagine they're on a beach relaxing and feeling the warmth of the sun on their faces. All they can smell are the flowers and all they can hear is the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. Chsh.......chsh.............
Ring a bell chime once loudly but first, ask the children to raise their hands when they can't hear the bell anymore. Then wait. You'll be amazed at the level of focus and calm this produces in them!
Singing has been shown to reduce anxiety by increasing blood flow, oxidation and endorphin levels. This goes for kids, parents, and caregivers so go ahead and belt one out. Here's an article I wrote last year about using songs and dance to increase energy levels.
Speaking of songs, here's one of my favorite anxiety reducers. I use it often during both stressful and peaceful times in the classroom. The kids love it and I have an adorable puppet I use with it that absolutely mesmerizes them.
"Three Little Birds" (Bob Marley and The Wailers)
"Don't worry about a thing 'Cause every little thing gonna be all right Singin': "Don't worry about a thing 'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!" Rise up this mornin' Smile with the risin' sun Three little birds Pitch by my doorstep Singin' sweet songs Of melodies pure and true Sayin', ("This is my message to you-ou-ou") Singin': "Don't worry 'bout a thing 'Cause every little thing gonna be all right" Singin': "Don't worry (don't worry) 'bout a thing 'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!"
People are proven to be happier and more secure in an environment with clear limits. Setting clear and developmentally appropriate boundaries can make people feel less anxious. That's because they know what to expect. Here's an article I wrote about setting boundaries if that's something you'd like to learn more about.
I recently learned that rules are different than limits. Limits can change with circumstances but rules should remain stable and as succinct as possible. After a lot of thought, I came up with this little song to set clear boundaries and reduce stress in my classroom. Feel free to copy it as you like, it's worked really well for me to sing it often in times of calm and occasionally when things get hectic. I use the tune to The Wheels On The Bus.
Be safe, Be kind, Be gentle
And you'll be OK, you'll be OK, you'll be OK!
Be safe, Be kind, Be gentle and you'll be OK
When you are at school
And when you are at home!
4. Be Sensory Smart
Playdough and sensory play reduce anxiety in children and adults. (I proved this to myself this morning). If you want the best homemade playdough ever it's here in the middle of my article about having a great day with your challenging children.
That's all for now. I hope you liked the article and found something you can use here!
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Nanci J Bradley, 60, is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.