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Playful Mental Health Activities for Your Child Over the Holidays

child on back with stress ball between legs

Confronting Child Anxiety During the Holidays

If your child is receiving mental health therapy for some type of anxiety disorder, the holidays may bring new challenges with the disruption of therapy, combined with normal holiday stresses in the home. So, it may be beneficial to be aware of some simple, fun activities that you can do with your child to help mitigate that stress and keep everyone on an even keel.

Here are six therapist (and child!)-approved, fun activities that will be especially helpful during the holidays for children who suffer anxiety-based disorders and will promote relaxation and stress reduction in your child.

1. Reminder Stones

Sometimes the holidays become so hectic that your child may feel disregarded or ignored. You need to give your child a way to be reminded that everything is alright so that the feeling doesn’t spiral out of control.

This activity will actually provide comfort in those lonely moments. Buy some oven-bake clay at a craft store (or online, for example, available for $6-$10 at Walmart), and have your child choose up to three colors that provide a feeling of happiness.

As your child rolls the colors into a ball, allow him/her to gently push his/her thumbprint into it. While doing so, discuss with the child what this stone symbolizes; maybe it’s a reminder to take a deep breath, think a happy thought, or recite a favorite mantra such as, “I will be okay.”

After you have baked the stone for 30 mins at 250 degrees, give it to your child to keep it in his/her pocket to be pulled out and rubbed in difficult moments as a reminder that he/she is safe and in control. It provides a tactile way for your child to sense the control.

2. Calming Down Jars

Another fun activity is making “calm down jars.” It’s as easy as throwing some warm water, glitter glue, and glitter into a glass jar and then having your children shake it up and then watch the glitter slowly sink to the bottom of the jar. It is incredibly soothing and relaxing to watch, and kids can use it at home after a difficult or stressful moment.

3. Bibliotherapy

A wonderful way to engage children while simultaneously teaching them some essential coping skills is to read age-appropriate books on the topic with them, such as Kristin O’Rourke’s There’s a Bully in My Brain. Children identify strongly with the main character, Justin, who worries about the same things they do. Justin teaches them concrete cognitive-behavioral strategies they can use to combat their own anxiety.

4. Mantra Bracelet of Positivity

Creating positive mantra bracelets is a simple but fun way to get children to discuss thinking positively. More specifically, which mantras will be most effective to calm them when they are worried. Begin with a discussion about the things that worry them most, and suggest three or four mantras they can readily repeat to themselves in an anxious moment, like “I am safe” or “Mom will always come back.”

Connect each mantra with a different color bead, and then have them string the beads onto a pipe cleaner or lanyard that they can wear on their wrist as a daily reminder to think positively and take deep breaths when they are feeling anxious.

5. Box of Worries

Oftentimes children feel that they are controlled by their anxious thoughts and feel powerless to stop them. Parents have reported that their child is obsessed with a certain topic and can’t stop talking about it.

A very effective activity to help children struggling with Generalized Anxiety Disorder is to create a “worry box.” Basically, children decorate a box in any way they wish–with glitter, markers, stickers, etc. As your child is crafting his/her own private box, explain that the box will be the place to safely store their worries when they don’t have the time to think about them.

When the box is ready, have your child write the worry on a piece of paper, and put it in the box to be retrieved later when they have more time to deal with the worry. The beauty of this project is that it gives kids a sense of control over their anxiety, and allows parents to earmark a time during the day to talk with their children about their fears.

When a certain worry no longer needs to be addressed, that piece of paper representing the worry can be ripped up and thrown away. How therapeutic can you get?!

6. Stress Balls

Stress balls have been a favorite for years. It would be difficult to find a child who doesn’t enjoy this activity. Fill a balloon with flour, rice, or play dough by using a small funnel. Tie the end and be sure to put the balloon into a second balloon for added security (and shorten the cleanup).

Your child’s very own stress ball will be a great thing to fidget with when your child feels particularly nervous or just needs to be distracted. Non-latex versions are also available at retailers such as Target.

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