Play Therapy,  The Lifegiver Blog

Play Therapy at Home, Day 10: Anxiety

This is the half way mark!  It’s hard to believe, it has been such a wonderful journey- and easier than I thought.  In fact, the hardest part is finding the time to blog about it and design the page.  In other words, if you haven’t tried some of these ideas, they only take between 5-15 minutes.  Of course you can go on longer, but sometimes that’s all the child can handle with their attention span.

After taking a Sabbath break over the weekend, we decided to jump back in.  I asked some of you what issues you would like to see and wanted to respond to those.  Keep your thoughts and ideas coming so I don’t just use our own experiences that may not relate to what you are going through.  I am looking towards focusing on loss, attention, anxiety, and past bad experiences (trauma) in the coming days.  Obviously one play therapy experience isn’t going to change the issue dramatically, but when you do several over time, spending quality time with your children- you can see the difference.  In fact, unless I am dealing with a traumatic issue that happened with the family, most children in the end are just needing their parents to slow down and spend time with them- that is where all healing happens.

When you think about it, kids are just little people and adolescents are just bigger little people.  Many of the things that help adults are skills that can help children, its just that we as parents are supposed to teach it to them.  Expecting them to handle hurt and anxiety like an adult is unfair.  I guess that brings up the point that we as parents better have some coping skills ourselves in order to teach them!

Children can experience anxiety surrounding lots of things.  Meeting friends, starting the school year, upcoming changes, fear surrounding a parent’s anger or loss, trying something new, etc.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell when they are feeling anxiety because it may not look like the way adults show it- or does it?  When a child is struggling you normally see them regress back into a previous developmental stage (potty trained children begin to wet the bed again, fighting with their siblings more than usual, nightmares, baby talk, clingy behaviors, etc).  One of the greatest things you can teach your children is how to get the nervous energy out of their body and relax.  Relaxation therapy sounds silly and can feel awkward to do, but it is easier than you think and kids really enjoy it.  Visualizing emotions and knowing what to do with them also teaching self-control and what we in the psycho-babble world like to call self-regulation.  In layman’s terms it just means we all have a certain amount of responsibility for the emotions we feel and controlling them in healthy ways.

Adults who do not have good self-regulation tear up their relationships with rage filled anger, manipulation, and passive aggressive attempts at controlling others around them- all while blaming the other person for the feelings they have.

We are not superheroes (even though I regularly become Wonder Woman in this house and wish I was).  We need others, need community, need support.  We are built that way.  There comes a point where we all need others to get through something that is beyond our own ability to cope.  However,  we owe it to our amazing, supportive community (and protect them) when we do our best to regulate (manage) our feelings first before asking them for help.  Teaching your child how to calm him or herself is a powerful step towards self-regulation and healthy boundary setting in their relationships.

Today, I wanted to guide my boys through relaxation therapy before bed.  It’s not hard and you can’t really mess it up.  In fact, we had a good time giggling through some of it!  Here are the basics:

1.  Help them visualize a place where they are completely happy (My boys were thinking of Disney World and Legoland).  Ask them to close their eyes and think about the colors they see, the warm sunshine on their skin, whether or not people are around them, the smile on their face- then we are going to come back to that thought. 

2. Breathe three times through your nose and out through your mouth, each with a count of three.  This will be practice for later.

3.  Keeping your eyes closed (this is where the giggling begins), starting with your toes by curling them and tightening your foot as hard as you can as you count to 5, then relax using the breathing we learned.  Move up to the legs- since kids are still learning to feel and control certain muscles I did the whole leg, where as adults you move muscle to muscle (calves first, then to quads).  I found it was easier for them to cross their legs and squeeze their legs together as tight as possible.  Move to the buttocks (this is where we really started giggling), to the tummy, and then to the arms.  For arms, I asked them to cross them over their chest and give themselves the biggest hug they could, then flex their muscles, and then to their hands- of course don’t forget we are relaxing and breathing out before each one.
When we got to the hands, I asked them to picture any bad feelings, worries, fears, or yucky feelings from the day (give them a moment to think about it) and picture putting all those feelings into a red ball in their hands.  Then I had them squeeze their hands together (or as fists) like they are squishing that red ball as hard as they can.  Then when they relax, the red ball is gone.

4.  Finally, it’s time to think about our happy memory again!  Remind them of what they saw there, how they felt, the warm sunshine, the smile on their face again- and Ta-da!!!! It’s bedtime…  I didn’t hear from them again.

At the very least, this is a great technique to introduce to them as school is starting.  If you practice it ahead of time, try using the hand clenching and breathing throughout the day- this is definitely something they can do in the classroom.  When you see your child panicking, having a tantrum, and beginning to get worked up, you can remind them of the breathing.  By the way… it wouldn’t hurt for us adults to try this as well…

What is your happiest memory???