An Anxious Mind: How Online Creative Tools Can Help Kids Dealing With Anxiety
Published: March 20, 2018
This week our guest blogger is the children’s book illustrator and mom of two, Nancy Leschinkoff. In her blog, she talks about the digital tools which over the years have helped her son manage his anxiety.
“He’ll grow out of it.” They said.
“It’s just his age.” “Toddlers are really tricky.”
Really? tricky? (Insert sarcastic rolling eyes emoji here).
“He’s just shy.”
“The other kids are so pushy nowadays thank goodness our boy isn’t like that, he likes to take his time and he always comes round”, my Mother-in-law-said.
Yeah right! She clearly hadn’t seen him in full tantrum action at the various parties we’d inflicted on him in the hope exposure would work.
Cut to five years later, he’s nearly finished primary school and is a bright polite, sweet boy. We are tremendously proud of him. As far as the school is concerned, there is no problem. He does his school work well- TICK! He doesn’t go nuts at the fire alarms – TICK! He doesn’t make sarcastic comments under his breath, set booby traps or pull his desk buddy’s hair, TICK TICK TICK DER TICK.
An angel we are told.
And yet we we still are given a hard time by our son about starting a new school term each holiday…and most weekends. Everyday he worries he will be sick at school and every day we reassure him he won’t be..
The worrying sometimes starts as early as Saturday morning, like a whisper of a rumour building up to a full blown row by Monday morning, barricading his room and my husband or I left to try and get our small but very strong child into our car. It’s like dealing with our wriggly cat that spread eagles every time they have to be put into their cat box for the once yearly vet visit. Happy Monday everyone!
Over the years, parties, the dentist, doctors appointments, going to friends houses, swimming lessons, hairdressers, after school clubs, holiday clubs, school trips, going to a tutor, being sick, have caused many tantrums of gargantuan proportions at home and sometimes in public (I call them mega-trums) from our eldest, and we can no longer blame these behaviours on his age, a phase, or shyness.
Although obvious to us now, it certainly wasn’t straight away. We just felt he was different from his peers. Frankly neither my husband or I relish going to a noisy party in a cold village hall with a bunch of sweaty sugar-high small people, led by a suspiciously hungover looking Party Lady in a dirty neon tutu with a shouty voice thrusting a limbo stick in your face every five minutes, so why should he?
We are under no illusions, being a great parent does not always come naturally and can be hard work.
I wish I was one of those bread-baking-wholesome-checked-apron-sunshine-in-my-kitchen-mums! My husband is fun-time Freddie, (cue second rolling eyes emoji!) and has a saintly patience that he should be awarded a medal for. Through trial and error we definitely are learning to anticipate tricky situations, helping our son avoid the mega-trums where possible, or work through them quickly.
So what online creative tools have helped our anxious child?
Well, I would definitely say as a rule of thumb, family time together, getting outside and playing, getting exercise, sleeping well and eating well all help towards good mental health and happy times. However, there are moments where various apps and online sites out there have been incredibly useful, and it’s wonderful for when you have to think on your feet.
When my son was smaller, like most children he responded very well to the structured routine of school. They used visual planning aids to help children know what would be happening when and where. So, we decided to use the same website – Twinkl (www.twinkl.co.uk) at home, and proceeded to print out our own visual prompts which my son would play “schools” with, or use to help him know what would be happening at the weekend, and in the holidays.
We found that games like Toca Boca (www.tocaboca.com) were not only a good distraction technique or reward, they in fact also had a great educational element in them. Both my children have enjoyed using the Toca Doctor, which is a good way of discussing with your child where they feel anxious. It helped us talk about the side effects that happen when your body is stressed, so that they knew what to expect when a panic attack happens. We also used it as an angle for role play for things like going to the hairdresser (Toca Hair salon). We have also watched YouTube episodes of Caillou, a great kids cartoon which covers topics such as dentist visits, and getting chicken pox.
My favourite child friendly games have of course been Cut the Rope, Edge, Badland, Minecraft, GarageBand to name a few, and while they can be therapeutic and push the worrying thoughts away, we have learned to set timers and to ration these. We have used them to keep our children calm and zone out before something they dread happening, happens, and while some parents may disapprove of this- sometimes this is what it takes for your child (and you) to have some peace.
Mindfulness- breathing, trying to stay still, learning to take things slowly works wonders with children too, here’s a link to last weeks blog which discusses some mindfulness apps in more detail.
Express the stress:
We have been encouraging our child to keep a journal, and lately to read books on anxiety. He writes things down, and sometimes writes stories about it, which he emails. Anything that can help your child articulate their problems to you is good. Talking and being honest about feelings must be encouraged, so that you can work through worried thoughts together. We are lucky that our child has always been a good communicator, and when he was younger we used the app www.teachyourmonstertoread.com now he’s older and a confident reader we have used a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy workbook called “Starving The Anxiety Gremlin” by which is available on Kindle www.Amazon.co.uk
If a big “Mega-trum” is unavoidable, it’s then the calming down that needs to happen quickly. Hugging it out doesn’t always work. We try to reward quick recovery- though we do let him scream and shout, as the emotion needs to come out somehow. Playing music through apps like Spotify is a good technique, and lately if there have been worries before bedtime, I play soothing sleep music, which works well. We have also tried Audio books and podcasts which can be a great distraction technique- particularly in the car!
Laugh Out Loud:
Remembering happy times, simply looking at online photos together, taking photos and uploading them are all great ways to relax and push the dark clouds away. Why not make a photo album together? www.snapfish.co.uk Watching YouTube clips for the ‘Try not to laugh challenge’ can be great fun and something to do together.
Taking it outside:
As mentioned before getting a healthy dose of fresh air helps all kinds of mental health. There are some great fitness apps, my son has a basic tracker like a FitBit which encourages daily activity. We have also done some fitness challenges on the WII which are really fun, and for those little explorers “Geocaching” and “Hidden rocks” are treasure finding based activities, available in most areas of the UK.
It’s all on you parents:
It’s really daunting to ‘step up’ when you feel you haven’t much idea about what you’re doing as a parent anyway, like my husband and I do. Hopefully the list above will help your child, however, small online tools can help you too!
Read about childhood anxiety online. It’s common, I now know I’m not on my own. I try to keep an online diary, recording incidents, triggers and outcomes. If a tantrum is bad I sometimes record it as proof it wasn’t in my head. (storing it somewhere secret on my phone, so my younger daughter doesn’t find it and play it in a cafe!!) Writing my own fears down in a twice monthly blog (follow NancyNoodleDoodles on Instagram) really helps too. Look after yourself, go to bed earlier, sleep well if you can, eat better. I cope much better with both of my children if I’m rested and not “hangry.”
Although…I’d quite like to run into The Party Lady feeling a bit hangry. I’m sure her Limbo stick would come in handy!
Read more from our ‘Healthy and Happy’ month here.
Follow Nancy, and check out her portfolio of work and blog below:
Posted by Katie Bend