Anxiety and Sensory-Based Coping Skills for Kids | The OT Toolbox

Anxiety and Sensory-Based Coping Skills for Kids

Sensory based coping skills is an effective way to help kids deal with feelings of anxiety.  There is a reason that most of us deal with an uncomfortable situation by cracking our knuckles or cope with anger by punching a pillow.  Sensory based anxiety coping strategies can help kids deal with stress and feelings of anxiety for long term success and social emotional development.

When a difficult situation comes up in school or other social situation, kids can cope with the stress in that very moment.  Teaching these skills to kids requires a little preparation and frequent practice but can be a huge help when kids are feeling completely overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety.

Kids should understand that their body may react in a certain way when they are in a difficult salutation.  Feelings of stress and anxiety can be confusing to kids and can even make them feel more overwhelmed and out of control.

Anxiety kin kids can arise for many reasons, including sensory-based causes, difficulty organizing oneself, social reasons, behavioral reasons, or nervousness in new or scary situations.  Kids should know that their body can give them clues  about stress in these tricky situations and that they can understand and use those clues to feel more in control.

Feelings of anxiety might begin during or before anticipated situations that cause the child to feel overwhelmed, nervous, frustrated, or angry.  Then, when they start feeling those clues, they start to feel even more overwhelmed.

What a scary thing for a child to feel!

Anxiety and sensory based coping skills that will help kids overcome their feelings of stress and anxiety

Anxiety and Sensory Based Coping Skills to Help Kids

Imagine the signs that a child might feel when experiencing anxiety:

  • Sweaty palms
  • Fast breathing
  • Upset stomach
  • Sweating 
  • Feeling hot
  • Negative thoughts
  • Feeling angry
  • Wanting to run away
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling that the situation is dumb
  • Tense muscles
  • Wanting to wiggle or move
  • Feeling itchy
  • Sore muscles
  • Trouble focusing
It is important to remember that every child is different and how important it is to talk with your child to discuss his or her personal stress signals.  Talk about when they might feel these signals and what happens in the environment that might lead up to their feelings of stress and anxiety.

Once you and your kiddo have the clues of anxiety figured out, it is helpful to come up with strategies to cope with anxiety.  

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Try these sensory activities and tools to help kids with anxiety.

Sensory Based Coping Skills for Kids

Try these sensory-based anxiety coping strategies for helping kids deal with stress:

Proprioception-based Coping Strategies

Knee tapping
Chew gum
Muscle squeezes-Tense the whole body like a rock and hold the position for 10 seconds. Then release with "no muscles".  Repeat this technique three times.
hand clenches- Squeeze the hands into fists and hold them for 10 seconds.  Release and repeat three times.
Stress ball- (Try this homemade stress ball OR a store bought one)
Punch a pillow

Vestibular-based Coping Strategies

Run in place
Head bend down with deep breaths

Oral-based Sensory Coping Strategies

Suck a lollipop
Blow up a balloon
Deep belly breaths and blowing out through "duck lips"
Hum low and "under your breath"

Olfactory-based Coping Strategies

Smell calming scents

Tactile-based Coping Strategies

Sensory touch bar for desks.  Sticky back velcro is a great cost-effective version of this strategy.

Vision-based Coping Strategies

Anxiety and sensory based coping skills that will help kids overcome their feelings of stress and anxiety

Teaching kids to use these sensory based coping strategies to deal with anxiety or stress requires thoughtful discussion with your child and practice to prepare for unknown situations.  Try role playing situations where overwhelming feelings have previously presented themselves.  Talk about what led up to those feelings and clues and how the child can use different sensory based strategies to beat the anxiety next time. 

Anxiety and sensory based coping skills that will help kids overcome their feelings of stress and anxiety