4 Words to Help Calm an Anxious Child

How to Calm an Anxious Child - An Everyday Story

4 Words to Help Calm an Anxious Child

I could see the entire situation unfolding before me; before it even happened. Jack needed to have a blood test and we were given no time to prepare him.

Usually we would spend the weeks leading up to something like this stepping him through the process, reminding him and making sure he was as comfortable and prepared as possible.

But we found out the day before. He needed the blood test the next morning. This isn’t going to go well, I thought to myself.

And well the next morning came and it wasn’t going well. Jack’s anxiety was enveloping him. He felt completely out of control. He couldn’t brush his teeth properly, couldn’t get dressed, couldn’t carry his breakfast bowl back to the kitchen for fear of dropping it and smashing. Everything he tried ended in screams of frustration, things thrown and him slumping to the floor.

With my arms around him, holding Jack tightly, I whispered that it was time to go. He grabbed his favourite stuffed toy and I asked him if he would like me to carry him to the car; he did.

In the hospital waiting room we waited….and we waited. The nurse called Jack’s name and I saw him recoil. It was his turn.

“Has Jack had a blood test before?” The nurse asked.

“Yes, but he doesn’t remember it.”

“Well sit him on your lap and hold him down.”

“No Mummy. Please Mummy. No.” He pleaded and sobbed.

“I’m going to put you up on my lap, ok?” I said.

“Ok, hold his arms down like this.” The nurse instructed.

“No Mummy. No. Please. No.”

“Can we please wait until he is ready?” I asked the nurse.

I held him close. My arms tightly wrapped around his little body. I whispered in his ear,

“You’re safe. I’m here.” “You’re safe. I’m here.”

As I held him tightly I could feel the anxiety in his body; “No Mummy” he sobbed.

“You’re safe. I’m here.” “You’re safe. I’m here.”

“You’re safe. I’m here.” “You’re safe. I’m here.”

His sobs softened. His body loosened. Through a catch in his throat he whispered, “ok.”

And with a scream that ripped my heart out, the nurse inserted the needle, I held tight.

“You’re safe. I’m here.” “You’re safe. I’m here.”

“You’re safe. I’m here.” “You’re safe. I’m here.”

I tightened my hold and as I did, Jack turned his head to look at the needle. And in that moment, the crying stopped, his eyes were transfixed.

“There’s air bubbles in the blood. Look I can see air in my blood.”

“And it’s a purple-red colour. It’s dark. Not red like I thought it was.”

In that moment he felt safe. As the nurse prepared to take the needle out, I could see the fear returning,

“The nurse is going to take the needle out now.”

“You’re safe. I’m here.”

…..

This fear he has is very real. It took me some time to accept this. Whether it’s a blood test or a balloon, a sudden noise or the thought of a LEGO creation breaking; this fear and anxiety is real.

My own upbringing taught me, ‘Don’t be silly. That’s not something to get upset about. You’ll be fine.’

It’s been hard for me not to give in to my initial reactions; to instead acknowledge his fears and anxieties and act with compassion.

In that moment, when fear is overtaking him, Jack has to know that he is safe; that within my arms is a safe space. Only when he is feeling safe is he able to calm himself back down.

When Jack’s feeling scared, I hold him tightly and whisper in his ear,

“You’re safe. I’m here.”

…..

30 comments on “4 Words to Help Calm an Anxious Child”

  1. Elise

    Thank you for sharing, validating our little ones emotions and allowing them to feel them entirely is how WE as parents can and will change the next generation and lead them back to LOVE. The secret to life. You are a divine mother and I am grateful to have found your blog! Keep on pioneering tribe mama!!

  2. Clare

    Lovely Kate- I’m all teary! 4 words and the validation that his feelings are real and seen by you. Such a powerful style of parenting.

  3. Julie

    What a beautiful post as always Kate. It brought tears to my eyes.

  4. paula geluso

    As adults we know the value of a warm embrace, in times of trouble and joy…It is the sharing of the experience and affirmations of our feelings (fear, sadness ,pain, insecurity)that calm the soul..Adding these precious words to the physical embrace is healing beyond words.Thank you so much for this blog..

  5. Judi

    I was so moved this morning by your story of Jack getting his blood taken. Thank you so much for sharing it so openly with all.
    I always am excited when I see that there is a new story in my email box. This one was truly unexpected.
    Judi

  6. Fiona Howarth

    For my 3yo daughter, I use “It’s alright,” “mummy’s here”. She is possibly SPD, and is easily frightened of new things, places and people. I’ve found these words helpful in many situations.

  7. Melody Trent

    Way to go Jack and Kate!!! Safe warm environments help our students and children be nurtured and allow them to feel secure. When Jack looked at the blood it was amazing to see how he felt.

  8. Savannah

    Thank you. I have been trying to find a way to get over the be a big boy And don’t be so silly mentality that I was taught as a child. My wee James feels things so deeply but I don’t want to squelch his spirit. So Thank you for reminding me to be more gentle and take our time when dealing with emotions.

  9. Leah

    I read this and cry. I hear, imagine and feel my own son in this. So many times I have said those same words as he lost it over something others would say we should just brush off. Thank you.

  10. Gill

    That is beautiful, kind and reassuring. I will do this tonight for my son. He is having a tough week (naplan) and not settling well at night. Well done mum xx

  11. Cat from thatbettiething

    Oh Arthur (2) had to have a blood test last week. He was soooo brave. I was completely honest with him and told him that it would hurt a little bit for a minute. He had recently seen me get some blood tests, and was actually incredibly keen to have one too, despite my honesty about the pain. He was very very brave. Then the nurse came back and said “I’m very sorry, but it clotted when they put it in the machine and we need some more”. My hear sank- but once again Arthur astounded me with his bravery. Some results have come back a bit iffy, so I’m really hoping they don’t want to do more tests though.

  12. Sarah

    This was wonderful to read! I’m a special education teacher and it’s so heartwarming to see children with special needs being embraced and their needs met!

    • bjw

      Love the story and the sentiment. I’m a general ed teacher in the upper elementary level, and I could really use some suggestions about how to calm a very anxious student. Of course we can’t put “hands on”, so hugging tightly is not an option. I feel like I have tried all year to get this student to not feel so anxious, but nothing had worked.
      Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

  13. srividya

    Great i hav als tried it bfre bt nt continousli. Wl do hereaftr

  14. Jennifer flynn

    This is beautiful. Can I ask for advice? My son has food anxiety where he completely breaks wanting it sooo bad it makes him shake even if he just ate five min before- What do I say to him? As you say it is hard to grasp that this is very real to him and I have done the wording and pics but what words could I use?

  15. hagrid136

    Beautiful – I have tears streaming down my cheeks! Absolutely true – your children need to know they are safe and you are with them – amazing x

  16. Lucie

    we will try… my son had blood taken at age 3. they couldnt use arm so they used upper side of his hand. now he is 6 and he still remembers how painful it was.. we need him to be vaccinated but it seems to be impossible, even with many many month repeating this time it is different, only mentioning that place makes him really angry..

    • Karen

      Beautiful. I look forward to your wisdom and methods when your little one no longer fits on your lap, when he towers over you, and when you cannot be with him in his anxious moments. Been there.

  17. Meredith @ Homegrown Friends

    Thank you so much for this post. As a mom of an anxious child, it is hard for others to understand what we go through daily. Just reading this post made me feel a little better. Sharing today!

  18. Claire McCurley

    I hope that you won’t be too harsh on my comment. My boy is nearly 11 and has recently become very anxious. Whilst reassurance is a suitable reaction sometimes when the child is a little bit older you need to help them to settle themselves. Helping them to understand what’s about to happen, why is important and talking thro the possible outcomes is the key to overcoming anxiety and teaching them the skills to let them know that they are free to overrule the works that they have.

  19. barefootplay

    Yes! I always let children know I understand they are feeling things and that I can help them. So few people acknowledge that children feel real emotions.

  20. Hannah Schickedanz

    Just wanted to pop back and say thanks for this post. My 2.5 year old has been in hospital a couple of times in the last two weeks, and getting bloods done with a rushy, too loud, distraction-theory nurse was really hard. As she talked louder, I tried to be the calm for my wee boy, and your words popped into my mind. They truly worked – he was still upset, but could finally melt into me and sob, rather than the panicked screaming that had be happening up until then.

  21. Marie

    I feel it is important to note that although the mantra was a beautiful verbal message, “You’re safe. I’m here.” the fact that you were attuned to his feelings and held him was also a vital part of the process – and that you were able to advocate for his needs, “Can we please wait until he is ready?” Thank you!

  22. Amanda

    Before I decided to stay at home with my own children, I worked as a Special Education teacher in our local school district as well as at a care facility for children who are medically fragile. Your words and descriptions of your son always remind me of my past students…they were each such a blessing in my life. Thank you for sharing your experiences…especially the moments that aren’t easy. You are providing techniques and encouragement for both educators and parents.

  23. Kylie

    oh dear you have me completely blubbering now remembering my experiences with my kids during times like this, most of them in the emergency ward. Thank you for this lovely reminder that it is us who need to provide that warm loving safe space to our tiny humans because they all need it so badly.

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