In Consultation

In Consultation

Helping Children Manage Stress

By Christopher Willard

November/December 2019

Q: I can’t look anywhere without hearing about the benefits of mindfulness-based interventions for stress and anxiety. But how can I adapt these practices for the young kids I work with?

A: These days, we’re seeing increasing numbers of younger and younger kids struggling with anxiety. With some estimates suggesting a third of them are experiencing symptoms by adolescence, many clinicians are scrambling to find strategies that help kids manage stress in the moment and build resilience, without relying on medication. As the research shows, mindfulness techniques can be incredibly effective in this regard, but if the idea of teaching little kids to sit still and quietly focus on their breath strikes you as somewhere between absurd and impossible, you may be right.

The key, as with any kid-centered therapy, is to make it feel engaging. Sound easy? Not always! My first attempts at sharing mindfulness with kids, as a special education teacher and later as a clinician, were largely failures. After all, how are you supposed to make focusing on the breath feel fun? “Why are we doing this stupid stuff?” they’d often ask me. One particularly precocious child even told me, “Deep breathing is so played out!”

Then I came across a little study by Lev Vygotsky. A cognitive development…

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