Worrying is a normal part of life, especially during times when we anticipate negative outcomes for certain situations. Unfortunately for many people, the habit of worrying can grow into feelings of anxiety. And it isn’t just adults that experience this; children are susceptible to anxiety too. In fact, about 5.8 million children nationwide have anxiety problems [*].
When children are anxious, we have a natural tendency to want to help them feel better. However, not everyone is familiar with the techniques that are effective against anxiety. In this article, we’ll be discussing grounding techniques for children, an approach that helps develop the skills needed to deal with anxiety as it occurs. And with enough practice, children will learn how to manage anxiety on their own.
What are Grounding Exercises?Grounding exercises are activities that both adults and children can use to bring them back to the present moment. There are various types of grounding activities for kids, from quick strategies like deep breathing to more formal techniques, such as meditation. There is no right or wrong way to ground oneself as different strategies work for each individual. The goal is to find one that anchors you in the here and now.
Grounding techniques are helpful for situations where children may find themselves overwhelmed or confused by distressing thoughts and emotions. Kids also experience strong emotions, stressful circling thoughts, or painful memories and flashbacks. Doing grounding exercises can help bring them back down to earth.
How Ground Exercises Help Manage Anxiety and Worries in Kids
Effective grounding exercises engage the senses through techniques like visualization and deep breathing to redirect anxious thoughts and feelings. Involving the other senses such as hearing, touch, taste, and smell can help kids regain control over their thoughts and physical responses. This works by interrupting the automatic response to anxiety, allowing the mind and body to return to a state of safety.
Grounding exercises should be done as soon as sensations of distress or anxiety surface. Practicing the techniques this way enables children to use them when negative feelings intensify.
10 Calming Grounding Exercises for Kids
There are many grounding techniques for kids that are effective at combating symptoms of anxiety. Here are some examples:
5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique
This grounding exercise is a simple one that children can start with. All they need to do is pay attention to their senses. Slowly and steadily, have your child identify five things they can see, four things they can hear, three things they can smell, two things they can touch, and one thing they can taste. The 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique is effective because it helps children focus on something tangible using their senses. It helps the mind focus, slowing down any racing thoughts that may be contributing to feelings of anxiety. Using a guided worksheet may be an easier way to do this particular exercise.
Focusing on a specific image can help a child feel more grounded and safe. Ask your child to imagine that they are trees with roots extending from their feet and into the ground. Continue describing how their roots reach deep down into the earth, all the way to the center of the planet, where it anchors them. It will help create an image that they are stable and firm instead of unsteady and unsure.
Belly Breathe Technique
Taking slow, deep breaths is an easy way to slow down the rush of anxious symptoms. To help your child do this exercise properly, have them “belly breathe.” This means taking a deep breath in through the nose until the belly expands. Hold the breath for just a few seconds before letting the air out, all while imagining negative thoughts and feelings to exit the body at the same time. Repeat this exercise several times to help reduce feelings of anxiety.
A-B-C Around the Room Technique
This exercise is similar to the 5-4-3-2-1 technique in that it uses the senses to draw focus away from anxious thoughts and feelings. But instead of identifying sensations, children are asked to name something in their environment according to the letters of the alphabet. Start by asking your child to find something that starts with A, then B, then C, and so forth. Let them go through as many letters as they can before checking in with how they feel. Alternatively, children can use a similar exercise from the 2-4-6-8-10 technique to find 10 objects in the room of a particular color. This may be easier than finding things that start with letters.
Anxiety causes the body to tense up in anticipation of something dreadful. One way to reduce this unpleasant sensation is to ease muscle tension, which can be done with a simple stretching exercise. This activity can be done almost anywhere. Start with a simple stretch, such as bending over forward with arms dangling “ragdoll style” — an easy way to reduce tension. Another simple stretch that kids can do is reach up to the sky with both hands before tilting to the right and then the left.
Firm pressure is an excellent way for kids to feel more stable and grounded. For this exercise, children can either place their left and right hands on opposite shoulders and squeeze for a self-hug. It helps to pair this action with an affirmation, such as “I am grounded” or “I am in control.” Alternatively, parents or guardians can give children a firm hug while saying the affirmation together. Repeat this exercise as many times as needed.
Sometimes relieving anxiety can be done with something as simple as a walk. The key is to do it slowly and mindfully. Ask your child to pay attention to how the ground feels as they walk softly in their shoes. They can also focus on which part of their feet come into contact with the ground. Slowing down, being aware of their steps, and paying attention to their surroundings while walking can help reduce anxiety. Research has found positive associations between physical activities, such as walking, and overall psychological well-being, including reduced anxiety [*].
Anxiety often comes with worried thoughts about improbable scenarios. It can be easy for a child to spiral into this pattern of thinking when they experience anxiety. Reorienting the moment can help them slow down and stop this cycle. Simply have your child name facts about the present moment. You can give them a card with prompts to help them recognize the facts. It can look something like this:
- My name is…
- My age is…
- I live in…
- My eyes are…
- My hair is…
- Today is…
- My favorite color is…
- My favorite food is…
- My shirt is…
Hand Tracing Technique
This is an activity that many kids love. Start by getting a piece of paper and a writing instrument (a pencil, crayon, or market will do). Lay the paper flat on a surface and have your child put their hand on the paper. Using the writing tool, let your child trace their hand. Once they are done, add patterns or color the inside of the hand. This allows children to focus on the sensation of the crayon or pencil moving next to their hand instead of the anxious feelings. Coloring and drawing patterns is also a great way to focus on something more productive than negative emotions.
Stomp Stomp Blow Technique
Sometimes an active grounding exercise is needed to manage strong feelings of anxiety. Have your child stomp their left foot, then stomp their right foot, and then exhale quickly but deeply. Ask your child to focus on the feeling of their feet on the floor as they continue the pattern of stomp, stomp, blow. Have them imagine that they are kicking out and blowing away their anxious thoughts.
Help Kids Manage Anxiety and Worry Today with These Grounding Exercises
These grounding exercises work in various ways. Some allow children to focus their attention on observable objects in their immediate environment. Others are effective at redirecting and reducing anxious physical energy or slowing down racing thoughts. Kids that need help with their anxiety can use a combination of these techniques to find stability and peace.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health. 2022.
- Yang W, Wong S, Sum R, et al. The association between physical activity and mental health in children with special educational needs: A systematic review. September 2021.