How to Help Your Child Manage Their Anxiety

By Anxiety, Children No Comments

For many, childhood is the most wondrous and exciting time in a person’s life. But even when a child is growing in a loving and stable family environment, they can feel fear and anxiety.

Think back on your childhood. Everything new was something to be not-so-sure of. It was easy to feel a bit anxious on the first day of school or meeting someone for the first time. A child often feels anxious at bedtime, having to go to the doctor or dentist, or on their first day of summer camp.

When children experience anxiety, they may run away, become very quiet, scream, shake, act silly, cling or have a tantrum to avoid the stressful situation. You may have tried to talk with your child and reason with them in these moments. But this generally doesn’t work.

Brain research suggests that it is extremely difficult for young children to think logically or control their behavior in these anxious moments. They are experiencing real fear and the fight/flight/freeze mode that accompanies it.

Here are 3 science-based ways parents can help their children manage their anxiety so they may regain a sense of safety.

1. Stimulate Their Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve is located on both sides of the voice box. Studies have shown that stimulating it can interrupt the fight/flight/freeze mode and send a signal to your child’s brain that he or she is not under attack.

Some easy ways to help your child stimulate this nerve are:

  • Have them chew gum
  • Hum or sing
  • Gargle with regular warm water
  • Eat a piece of dark chocolate (this is also a parasympathetic regulator)

2. Help Them Slow Their Breathing

Like adults, when children are anxious they tend to take rapid shallow breaths from the chest. Taking slower, deeper breaths from the abdomen sends a signal to their brain that they are safe and can relax.

Older children may be able to follow you as you show them slow breathing exercises. For younger children, there are some playful ways to get them to slow down and control their breathing. You can have them blow bubbles, blow into a pinwheel, imagine your fingers are birthday candles and have them slowly blow them out, teach them to whistle and simply see if they can hold their breath for three seconds as if they were swimming.

3. Be Silly

Research also suggests that humor can significantly reduce anxiety. Humor has a way of distracting, relaxing muscles and releasing endorphins that combat stress and anxiety.

Try silly knock-knock jokes or word games like “I went on a picnic.” A quick internet search will result in a ton of corny jokes that your youngster will most likely love, so print some out and have them on hand.

Anxiety is a part of life, but if you use these three techniques, you can help your child manage theirs.  If you think your child could benefit from speaking to someone, please feel free to be in touch. I’d be more than happy to discuss treatment options.

The Rise of Screens and Your Brain

By Dayspring No Comments
Kelsey Dill, MA, LMHC
I recently completed an informative training on the rise of anxiety and addiction of screens, social media, and video games. With technology so readily available (and honestly necessary to most day to day activities), I think it’s important to acknowledge effects which might be causing you or your child difficulty. Here are some of my takeaways, and things I thought might be most helpful to others:


  • Media and News: The truth is, media is often used by news sources or marketing campaigns to alarm you and trigger your fight or flight anxiety response (and then over and over and over again to fill air time). If our bodies are in a constant state of alarm, it makes it very difficult to relax, cope with stress, recover from illness, concentrate, sleep, etc. This leads to increased anxiety and potentially long term health issues.  Limiting your exposure to news can help to alleviate some of this distress response.
  • Video Games: Did you know that your brain is unable to differentiate between video games and real life? That’s right. If you’re playing a first person shooter (like COD), your brain has activated the “DANGER!” alarm and your fight or flight is activated. Cognitively you may know that you are not in real danger, but your biology does not know it. You may notice that after video games your child has “screen mean” irritability and struggles with eye contact. This is due to hyper arousal of their fight or flight response (Essentially, they’re not meaning to be “bad” or “rude”, their biology has just taken over). Additionally, video game use causes long term problems with ability to follow sequential, multistep directions (“Eric, please turn off the tv, brush your teeth, and go to bed” will be more difficult for your video game brain kiddo). This long term definite damage to their brain is pretty significant and research is unclear if the damage can be reversed. One study using 4 year olds found that only 9 minutes of SpongeBob a day caused changes in inability to follow sequential steps. Yikes!! Video games also have been shown to change your brain: causing an increase in risk taking (without reflection on consequences), sleep issues, and a decrease in gray and white brain matter (AKA: a decrease in executive functioning for school kids).
    Note: This is especially important for parents of neuro-diverse kids with ADHD who struggle with addiction to video games or use them as a way to self soothe. Their “coping skill” is actually causing them even MORE problems. It’s very important to teach alternative ways to cope with big feelings and find non-screen stress relievers!
  • Phones and Homework: Studying with your phone open makes it harder to learn (Sorry kids). Parents, it is really important to help your child learn to study and concentrate without access to their phone. Setting boundaries by saying things like, “You cannot use it while you’re studying, but you can have it after you’re done” can be helpful. Further, anxiety is often heightened in teens due to social media use and FOMO (fear of missing out). Oftentimes the persona people post online does not represent “real life”. This in combination with comparing followers, likes, and possibly negative DMs (direct messages) have the potential to cause teens to feel anxious or depressed. On the flip side however, it can also help teens feel connected with their peers and social support is so important.
I like to think of technology use like any substance (food, wine, etc). As your teens grow up, part of your job as a parent is to educate them on healthy screen use. Too much video games, TV, social media, can have lasting negative effects on all of us. Limiting screen time and encouraging other activities like sports, time in nature, creative endeavors, and reading books can help to balance out and foster healthy brain development. Screens are inherently addictive, so it is important to practice what you preach and work as a community to spread awareness of what healthy screen time looks like across the developmental lifespan.

Talking is Hard: A Social Skills Group for Teen Boys

By Dayspring, Teens No Comments

Adolescents are growing up in the age of social media. Much like fast food, social media is quick and easy, but hardly satisfying. The human brain needs more than likes on an online post. The human brain craves genuine connections with real people. A fulfilling life is often full of rich relationships. Teenagers need genuine connection like everyone else. Navigating adolescence is stressful enough as it is and traversing that journey alone is even worse. Boys can often be overlooked as they rarely open up and people find it difficult to help them. Boys will often externalize or lash out if they are hurting inside. Words may not be the trick to help those boys open up. Instead, finding a sense of belonging and support may be the best medicine. Have you noticed that your teen boy is struggling to connect with his peers?

Here are three male teenagers lacking in social skills:

Teen A: He does not play well with others. Teen A often acts defiantly towards authority, and he tends to push others away before they can push him away. He tries to look like the tough one that does not care. Quick to pull out the phone and shut out the world.

Teen B: He is the shy, quiet type. He has been bullied because his interests may not fit in the mainstream. Teen B may come across awkward to others. He may have tried to join a club or sport but gave up after no success. Perhaps Teen B locks himself away in his room and escapes to a world in a video game that makes more sense.

Teen C: He is all over the place. Teen C has high energy and moves at his own pace. He may struggle to connect with his peers as they find it difficult to keep up with him. Perhaps he has found it easy to gain the attention of his peers by assuming the role of the class clown. Teen C latches on to any person or group that tolerates his antics. He probably misinterprets that tolerance as friendship.

Our group is designed perfectly for Teen B. Our social skills group offers a fun and safe environment for teen boys to learn and connect. We cover topics that include basic communication, self-monitoring and coping basics, critical thinking, assertiveness, and conflict management.

Do not fear if your teen is more like A and C. Here are a few ideal outlets for Teens A & C: Wilderness Awareness School, Aspiring Youth, Sports (i.e., Basketball, Baseball, Football, Lacrosse, Tennis, Swimming, Fencing, etc.), Martial Arts, and Drama/Theater. Parents should also check out the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth.

Celebrating and Finding Positivity in All Body Sizes

By Dayspring No Comments

By Anna Church, MS, LMHCA

I would like to take a moment to discuss the way we talk about ourselves and our bodies. This time of year, in particular perhaps, we tend to have all sorts of labels and expectations on ourselves.  Concerns about body size, weight, health, food, and related topics tend to arise. Instead of going down the path of popular or conventional trends of what health looks like or what we “should” like like, be doing, or eating, I would like to offer an alternate perspective.

There are two movements that have gained momentum in recent years: the body positive moment and the health at every size movement. What these movements have in common are that they both challenge the narrative that there is some absolute ideal body size that we are reaching for. Body movements send the message that you can celebrate the beauty and uniqueness of your body, find joy in your body, enjoy activity, and and enjoy eating no matter what size you are, what you weight, or what you look like. Below are some key takeaways that I have compiled to help challenge the conventional narrative that there is one “right” way to be or look.

What negative self-talk am I engaging in?

Pay attention to the adjectives and labels. How am I describing myself and others? Are these descriptions coming from a place of kindness and compassion or are they coming from a place of judgment? We tend to put labels on ourselves, our actions, and out food. These can be labels like good, bad, right, wrong, cheating, too big, etc. The way that we talk to ourselves matters. When we put negative labels on our food, our activity, ourselves then we start to view the whole of ourselves as negative. Negative labels lead to feelings of guilt and shame which perpetuates the cycle of unhealthy behaviors.

What expectations am I putting on myself or others?

What am I telling myself that I “should” be doing, that I “should” look like, or “should” be eating? Where do these expectations come from? Are they realistic? Is there a way I can be kinder or gentler with myself and others? When we put arbitrary expectations on ourselves then we feel like we are not matching up to an ideal and then we feel like we are already failing. Try challenging these expectations but looking for and celebrating the positive qualities and actions that we already have. And using gentler and kinder language when you feel like you are not meeting a goal.

What am I not doing because I think I can’t until I reach some sort of marker?

When we hold ourselves to unrealistic standards sometimes additional barriers are placed. I have heard people make statements such as “I will go to the gym after I lose 50 pounds, I do not want to be the only big person in the gym” or “I can’t wear that bathing suit because I am too fat, I won’t look good in it. No one wants to see a fat person in a bathing suit.” What really is stopping you from doing the activity you want to do? Who cares if someone does not like the way you look, if you want to do it go ahead! Celebrate diversity. Find the beauty and uniqueness in every body.

Try practicing compassionate self-care.

Compassionate self care means tuning into yourself and what you need. One way is to engage in activities that you enjoy. How does your body feel after you move it? Find the joy in activity and moving you body. If you enjoy dancing? Dance away! If you enjoy swimming, swim to your hearts content! If you enjoy walking, take that walk! Give yourself permission to be flexible and tune into yourself and what you need. How am I feeling? Am I tired, sore, in pain, restless, hungry, energetic? These will give you clues to what you need. Perhaps it is time to rest, go on a walk, take a bubble bath, or eat that delicious meal that you have been craving.

So during this holiday season, and beyond, I challenge you to practice self compassion, find joy in movement, and look for the beauty in yourself.

Links for further reading, information, and resources: