Play techniques for children with generalised anxiety disorder
Play techniques as well as some toy ideas for parents who have children with generalised anxiety disorder

“I thought my daughter had attention deficit disorder because she could not pay attention and was highly distractible. Then I learnt that it was an emotional problem. She has generalised anxiety disorder.

"People often snigger when I help her calm down without ‘disciplining’ her for screaming, crying and pacing when she has to do something new. I wish they understood her fears are as tangible as theirs would be in a hijacking. She needs help to learn how to manage her anxiety. I need to know how she can do this," says Therese Feldman, mother of Gabrielle (3).

Play techniques which reduce anxiety

Take it slow so she can grow. Children do most things slower than adults because their ability to perform tasks, such as eating and dressing, is dependent on brain development. You can’t rush it. It takes time. Rushing your child only elevates anxiety.

Slow down and savour the process

This is where the learning is optimal.

For example, when you teach your child to make a clay ladybird you are teaching her colours like red, white and black. You are improving her fine motor skills by encouraging her to roll the clay of different sizes into different shapes.

Placing the parts together in the correct manner helps your child understand spatial concepts such as above, below, between and next to. This is important for many life skills including mathematics.

So whether the end product looks like a ladybird or not is not the only measure of your child’s growth and learning. By not placing the emphasis on the end result your child will feel less concerned about it not being perfect.

Winner’s attitude

Sell the belief – to do is to win. If she knows that by trying she is a winner she will feel less anxious each time she fails at mastering a task. She will become inclined to dust herself off and give it a go again.

Explain what you expect

It is vital that your child knows the rules. This makes her feel informed and secure. Keep them simple and have no more than 3. This is also a good way to ensure you are being realistic and fair.

For example, say, “You may paint but there is 1 rule. You must wear an apron.”

Be consistent

Don’t change your expectations or be inconsistent in enforcing them. This makes your child prone to feel confused and vulnerable which leads to anxiety.

Best is good enough

Teach your child that her best will not the same every day. One day it will be full effort, a 10/10, other days it may only be a 6/10. This is normal and the same for everyone. The important thing is to give your daily best each day.

Model the way

Take note of how you react when you get something wrong or have to face a stressful situation. Try to tame your words to fit the problem. Keep them solution-orientated rather than problem-orientated.

For example, if you arrive home and realise you have no milk for coffee try say, “I’m irritated there is no milk but it’s easy to fix. Let’s hop in the car. In 5 minutes I’ll be sitting with coffee in my hand.” As opposed to: “I can’t believe it. This is the worst day of my life.”

Marvellous mistakes

Show your child when you make mistakes it’s okay to be disappointed, but when you are ready
you need to try again. Turn mistakes into something positive.

For example, if she makes a mistake in her drawing, turn it into a heart, magical creature or whatever feels good and makes her smile. This concrete change teaches her not to fear mistakes and view them as failure.

Encourage trial and error

This let’s your child know you trust that she can do it. It encourages her to try do it his way.

For example, if your child needs to find out a way to open a packet and asks you to do it, say, “It’s clever of you to ask for help, but I bet you could find a way to do it yourself.” Help her to problem solve with some guided questions, for example, “What do you think would be sharp enough to cut through this?”

Cut the criticism

Keep play light and fun. Lots of correction makes your child feel vulnerable and doubt herself. So replace criticism with commentary.

For example say, “You are taking care to colour within the lines. I can see you are giving it your best. Well done; nearly every stroke is in the lines. Good job.”

Avoid arguments

Try not to lecture your child if she is feeling anxious. Rather communicate that she is safe and no matter what she is feeling it can be managed. When she feels out of control and has a meltdown, remain calm. Your composed presence helps her gain perspective.

Feelings first

Simply being heard and loved will often be enough to let those upsets go. Take the time to let her speak about how she feels. These feelings affect her ability to pay attention. Lack of concentration is likely to lead to her not retaining instruction. This sets her up for failure. Failure fuels further anxiety.

Balance structured and unstructured activities

When there is structure your child gains security from the predictability. Unstructured or open ended activities remove the anxiety laden pass/fail criteria. Plan your child’s activities so they are well paced and provide a mix of structured and unstructured tasks.

The greatest gift you can give you child is to affirm that you love her warts and all, and provide her the time to learn the skills she needs to manage the situations that make her feel uncomfortable

Toys to help alleviate anxiety


 Mega Art Set (33991)

 Kitchen Play Set (47611)

 Dance Beat Mat (13133)

Barbie Microphone with Amplifier (04514)

Products available as in February 2011.If discontinued, ask your toy dealer about similar toys.

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