Step 1: Learn to identify the subtle signs that indicate your child is becoming stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed:
- Notice any changes in his speech (faster, repetitive, self-talk, etc.)
- Notice any changes in skin tone - pale, red
- Take note of any movements - pacing, rocking, spinning, flapping, etc.
- Are there any changes in her breathing?
- Does he become rigid or inflexible?
- Does she seek out oral stimulation (chews on her sleeve, bites her fingernails, puts things in her mouth?
- Other observations? ________________
Step 2: Once you notice the signs that your child is feeling anxious or overwhelmed, provide him with support to alleviate his stress or anxiety:
- Use a calm, non-judgmental voice and approach
- Re-direct the child's attention to something more favorable and calming (favorite topic, a
task/subject that is predictable)
- Offer them a break (this should be a positive option for the child vs. being viewed as "time
- Provide information to reassure them (use clear concise communication)
Step 3: Remember to use more visual communication, and less verbal.
If your child continues to feel anxious and overwhelmed, his behavior may begin to escalate. He may use a rude tone of voice, talk back to adults, run away, refuse to follow directions, have a tantrum, etc. At this point, your child may feel so upset or angry that he may not be able to focus on your words enough to process what you are saying. When this happens, consider the following:
- Many of my little ones begin to relax and feel less overwhelmed when I simplify my language and show them what is going to happen next (visual schedule) or what needs to happen (1st/then).
- Offering your child choices (that you can enforce), can help him to focus on the options/actions you would like him to take. Choices can also give your child a feeling of control, thereby decreasing his/her stress level. Post-It notes are quick and easy tool for visually displaying choices and showing your child what he could do.
- It is also important to allow your child enough time to process the information (i.e., choices, expectations), and make an appropriate choice. Most likely, you will need to wait even longer when your child is anxious or upset.
In summary, we can use this three step approach to begin to support our children at the first sign they may be feeling anxious. And by providing the appropriate supports (remaining calm and predictable, using visual systems, etc.), our children can move through their anxiety, and onto success!
2013 Copyright by Pamela McClure