5 Steps for Kids to Manage Stress and Anxiety in Public
Many students find their stress ramping up during class, either because of the actual academics or because of social issues pressing in around them.
As adults, we often have separation between our friend groups and our colleagues. This distinction is much more blurred for kids in school. Navigating friendship groups and social status is a lot of pressure for kids and not an intuitive process for most. Add to this the pressure of juggling academic expectations (theirs, ours and the teacher’s), and they may be having a rough time focussing in class.
This week’s strategy is about taking a subtle time out in the middle of things to try and regroup and refocus. Given that your kids are heading back to school from a break, this is a great time to go over the following strategy before they are stranded in a crowded classroom in an unhelpful emotional state. Even in a crowd, it is possible to build some time and space.
Have your child consider where they are when they feel most stressed (in the gym sitting on the floor, at a desk, or on the schoolyard). They should try to simulate the physical positioning they will need to deal with during the week. With eyes either closed or fixed on a particular object/spot in the room (feet work well), begin by paying attention to the sounds in or attached to their bodies:
Give them 30 seconds to a minute and then cue them to broaden their focus to sounds immediately around them in the room. Encourage them to pick out at least 3 sounds, as the specificity increases their focus and continue at a similar pace (30 seconds to a minute) and continue to broaden their focus in an ever widening circumference.
2. Physical Feeling
Once they have stretched their hearing to a logical maximum (sounds outside the building), have them shift senses to focusing on physical feeling. Begin by cueing them to notice how warm or cold they are; are there parts of their body that are warmer than others? Have your child:
Pay attention to the sensation of the different fabrics they are wearing on their skin
Focus on the sensation of the air around them (is it still or moving, temperature)
Focus on the parts of their body that are more tense or more relaxed
Wiggle first their fingers and then their toes, focusing on the sensation that generated not only in their fingers and toes, but hands and feet – can they feel the air moving?
Have them focus on what the air smells like:
Residual shampoo/body wash scents
Mechanical smells (the smell of a lamp bulb burning)
Sweat or other natural body odours (you know your kid – use your judgement here!)
Move onto their visual sense. This can be overwhelming and require cueing to restrict/limit their ‘visual processing’. Consider using one of the following:
Isolate 4 specific things you can see without moving your head or your eyes (just adjusting eye focus)
Pick out 4 things by the far wall that are red
Identify 4 different textures within 5 feet of you
5. Emotional Feeling
Finally, have them do an emotional check-in. This can be done by choosing an adjective to describe their current state of mind (such as optimistic, worried, tired), or simply using a 1-10 rating scale. A final cue that all feelings are temporary may be useful! Practicing taking in a couple of deep breaths while repeating in their heads a positive mantra (like all feelings are temporary) is a good way to bring them back to focusing on being part of the group they are in.