This list of 24 phrases to calm an anxious child has been developed my me to support you to work with your child to find a way to express themselves and help you and them to understand what is creating their anxiety.
#1 “Let’s write a story”
Younger children, especially, have great imaginations. Sit with your child and write out a story of what’s happening. Help them by drawing the pictures for their story, if they are unable to. This will help calm an anxious child by supporting them to express what is happening emotionally for them.
#2 “I’m here”
Yes, your child will want to feel safe. Telling them they are safe will not necessarily help the situation because THEY don’t feel safe. Providing them with support and letting them now they are not alone is different. Making physical contact works too. Reassure them you are there for them.
#3 “Can you feel your toes?”
When a child is having a panic attack they are in their head, focusing 100% on their thoughts. Help them to come back to their body by asking them to focus on their toes, or fingers. Ask them to wriggle their toes, or shake their hands. This will bring their focus from their worrying thoughts to their physical body.
#4 “Whatever you are feeling is okay”
This doesn’t have to be about trying to shift what’s happening to a positive frame. Helping a child to be okay experiencing their feelings is a great gift. Their feelings are a natural reaction to what they are thinking, and knowing that, makes it easier for them to understand what is happening in their body.
The benefit of using this to calm an anxious child is that it supports them to learn to be more open to experiencing their feelings in the future.
#5 “Let’s talk through what you’re thinking”
Supporting your child to put into words, especially for older children, what they are thinking, will support them to begin to make sense of their reaction. Speaking what is happening in their mind will help get it out in the open so it can be looked at from a different perspective. Supporting them to do this in a way that is non-judgmental is valuable.
#6 “Where are we right now?”
Going into the future may only make things worse when a child is already in the future with their thoughts. The best approach is to support them to come back to the present moment, the here and now. Asking them to tell you out loud where you are right now, helps them to come back to this moment. Get them to tell you in detail where they are. For example, we’re sitting in my bedroom, on the bed, in the afternoon on Wednesday March 20th, 2019.
#7 “I’m here to work this out with you”
Reaffirming for your child they are not alone will help them in some small way. Although be prepared that it might take a while for them to realize that you are physically there with them, in that moment. Repeating this statement and “I’m here with you” will help.
#8 “Who are you angry at right now?” or “Who do you want to yell at right now?”
Your child is very likely to know who it is they feel angry at, or scared of. By asking them this question and then talking them through yelling at that person, right there, with you, in that moment it will support them to release some of the anger they may be feeling.
#9 “Who’s here to be with you, right now?”
For smaller children this is an opportunity to connect them with their favorite teddy bear, doll or whatever toy they use to soothe themselves. Having them hug that toy will allow them to connect back to something physical, supporting moving them out of their thoughts.
#10 “Let’s have a drink of water and talk about things”
The simple act of getting a physical drink of water, something they can hold, whilst you talk about their worry will again support bringing them back into their physical body.
#11 “Let’s talk about what might happen”
Helping your child meet their panic about what they think might happen will support them, especially if it is something that you know is going to happen. Talking about the change, talking through how it might be a good thing. What might they like about this thing happening? Why would it be a good thing, if it happened? Older children will be able to explore the good in what might otherwise seem a bad situation.
#12 “What are you feeling right now, on a scale of 1 to 10?” or “How angry [insert their emotion] do you feel right now, on a scale of 1 to 10?”
Get your child to express the depth of their feeling. This will support them to see that feeling something is okay and that having a strong reaction to something is also okay. This is also a great way to check at the start and end of a conversation with them, to see if the intensity of their feelings have shifted.
#13 “Is that really for you to worry about?”
You child might be anxious about something they have no control over. Helping them to see this and explaining WHY they don’t need to be worried about it, may help.
#14 “What do you notice right now?”
The aim of anything you say to your child when they are anxious and overwhelmed is to bring them to this moment. By using the words ‘right now’ you are helping them to shift their focus from their worry of the future to right now, where they are.
#15 “Let’s just think about one moment at a time”
This is also supporting them to come back to the here and now rather than the future they think is going to happen.
#16 “What if…”
Help your child to visualize a different outcome, or the possibility of a different outcome by talking about ‘what if.’
#17 “I’ve felt this way too”
Share your own experience of feeling this same way with your child. You might choose to describe a situation from your own childhood, or something in the present way.
#18 “Let’s see what emotions we can name right now”
Have an emotions list handy in your home. Let your child find emotions that they are feeling and point to them, or say them out aloud. Having them acknowledge what they are feeling will help them see that it is okay to have the emotion, and experience it.
Download an Emotions Chart for younger children. They can draw their own pictures to represent each of the emotions.
For older children, or teenagers, download this wheel which contains a broader list of emotions for your child to choose from.
#19 “What can we do to prepare for …?”
You support your child by acknowledging what is causing their fear, rather than trying to move them away from it. By helping them to see that you can prepare for what they are imagining is the worst thing that could happen, they are more likely to feel supported.
#20 “Let’s slow things down”
By slowing things down and getting them to talk through their anxiety piece by piece, you help them to lower their anxiety level. Slowing things down, in their mind, also helps to make more sense of it.
#21 “What might you be able to control?”
When your child is anxious they are believing they have no control, either of the current situation or what they are imaging is going to happen in the future. Help them to find the things that they do have control of, right now, in the moment you are standing there with them.
#22 “What if your thoughts were clouds?”
Help your child explore the possibility that each of the thoughts they had in their head were clouds. And they have watched clouds in the sky, float by. What if the cloud thoughts could float by too, and they didn’t need to hold onto them. Would that be possible?
#23 “I’m here to listen, tell me what’s happening for you”
Be that good listener. Be the person who is able to listen and not want to solve the problem for your child. Notice that you don’t need to DO anything, other than be fully present with them and listen. Let them take as long as they like to explain to you what is happening for them. Give them your time.
#24 “Would you like a hug” or “Would you like me to hold you?”
Ask your child for their permission to support them physically. This is about it feeling right for them. Is it something they want and be open to them saying no. They might feel too emotionally distraught and not welcome the touch. This may change the more they open up and explore and express what they are feeling.
The key to supporting your child to calmness is to be connected. Connect with them in order to be there for them.