By Janis Gioia, MAEd.
Comforting Anxious Children
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While you can’t wave a magic wand and make children’s anxiety disappear, numerous products and resources are available to help children find peace for mind, body and spirit.
As a special education teacher, I’ve taught children with anxiety, autism spectrum, sensory processing and other emotional and behavioral disorders. When my children were young they struggled with separation anxiety and phobias (fear of the dark and fear of storms.)
I’ve always looked for unique products for my children, my students and to recommend to parents.
Being anxious myself, I have found many of the things that help children work just as well for adults.
Many of you, my dear readers, email me and let me know that my website helps you, or a teen or an adult child.
I’m so happy that Comforting Anxious Children benefits children of all ages, 0-110!
With the help of friends and colleagues, a talented group of counselors, therapists, occupational therapists and social workers, I’ve discovered many amazing products that really do reduce anxiety in children.
How to Use this List:
Like everything on my website, the list is organized with three categories, Mind, Body and Spirit.
You can read the entire list, or click on the blue (Mind) green (Body) or purple (Spirit ) tabs to find specific resources for that need.
Mind Products and resources in this category comfort, quiet and distract children from anxious thoughts.
Body Products and resources in this category help children manage anxious energy, meeting the needs of children who need to move to release anxious energy, and the needs of those who need to quiet and calm an anxious body.
Spirit Products and resources in this category help children connect to their faith to gain inner peace and comfort.
These products and resources can be used by themselves, or in combination with others.
At home: Your child might calm down watching relaxation videos while under a weighted blanket that has been lightly scented with citrus and vanilla oils.
At school: Your child might wear noise cancelling headphones, use a chewie or a bite band and keep a photo album of loved ones in his desk.
Remember: If anxiety is greatly impacting your child at school, talk to your child’s doctor and therapist and consider a 504 plan, if necessary, to make sure his needs are being met. Even if your child does not qualify for special education services, getting accommodations for anxiety-related disorders is guaranteed under federal law if your child meets the criteria.
Comforting Anxious Children does not receive any compensation for recommending products, manufacturers or resources.
Psychologists, counselors, child victim’s advocates, and parents everywhere know there is something special about a child’s favorite “blankey” or teddy bear.
Children with anxiety, depression, or histories of trauma often turn to a teddy bear, stuffed animal or doll as a friend and confidant. Comfort items help children deal with difficult feelings. It’s not uncommon, therapists say, for children to talk to their stuffed friend about their fears, worries and concerns.
While you can get these items anywhere, and in any price range, as a stuffed animal connoisseur, my favorites are from The Warm Buddy Company (also see weighted items and aromatherapy) and The Manhattan Toy Company.
The Warm Buddy Company has an extensive collection of Warm Up Plush Animals…super soft stuffed animals that have removable inner packs that can be heated in the microwave. These Warm Up Plush Animals are natural sleep aids which help ease minor aches and pain while soothing stress and anxiety.
Photo courtesy of the Warm Buddy Company
Placing a few drops of essential oils on the inner warming packs gives the animals the added benefit of providing aromatherapy. Warm Buddies are made with the highest standards and are hypoallergenic.
The outer animal covers of all Warm Buddy Warm Up Plush Animals are machine or hand washable so they can be kept clean and germ free.
This is especially nice for a child who is ill and in the hospital or hospice care.
The Manhattan Toy Company has a collection of oh-so-soft animals in their Adorables Collection. I love the Manhattan Toy Company because their products are high quality and well-made.
Photo courtesy of The Manhattan Toy Company
Children of all ages will love the super-plush bears, bunnies, hippos and unicorns, definitely soothing for any child, especially one who needs the comfort of “soft touch.”
Noise Cancelling Headphones
Mental health experts say you need to quiet the mind to reduce anxiety. Here are some products that help silence and calm a mind swirling with anxious thoughts.
Noise cancelling headphones reduce noise when a child needs quiet. A child can wear them at home or at school, when traveling (airports, sporting events, school cafeterias, subways) or any place where sound causes stress.
Using them to listen to relaxation music is another great benefit.
My favorite? Bose QuietComfort 35 wireless headphones.
They are pricey, and I don’t have a pair. The headphones below are my son’s.
When I’m lucky enough to borrow them, they are amazing. I recommend these for older children and teens.
The Fun and Function Company has Noise Reduction Headphones (image below) that reduce the noise level by up to 20 decibels.
They are much less expensive than Bose headphones and probably a better investment for younger children.
Photo courtesy of Fun and Function Company
UE WONDERBOOM Super Portable Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker
When you want to fill your home or your child’s bedroom with gentle soothing sounds, this little speaker gives crisp, clear multidirectional sound.
You will be surprised at the sound quality from such a small unit.
Because of its compact size, the UE Wonderboom is easily portable. Great if your child is going to Grandma’s house or you will be in a hotel.
Playing favorite soothing sounds will help your child adjust and feel relaxed in any new environment.
As you can see from the image of my Wonderboom above, the speaker is small. Available in many colors, it will easily fit into your child’s room and decorating scheme.
This speaker is great for lulling a child to sleep, or as calming background music for transition times like the after school rush or easing into the bedtime routine.
If your child likes to fall asleep to music, the Wonderboom will fill her room with gentle sound.
Sound/White Noise Machines
Sound soothers emit natural sounds like waves, waterfalls, falling rain and crackling fires at the push of a button.
White noise machines offer a “whispering woosh” sound of rushing air that that blocks out sounds that keep little ones anxiously fearing the dark.
They help silence footsteps, the creaks and groans of a settling house, the wind making tree branches tap a window, and any other noise that keeps your child awake and on edge, instead of asleep.
Children with anxiety, especially separation anxiety, need connection to their loved ones. Slip a small photo album in a backpack to comfort your child when he is away at school or daycare, a sleepover, or even summer camp.
Some children like to have a separate album of relaxing or favorite places. Your child may enjoy filling the album with favorite photos, postcard images or those cut from magazines.
My favorite photo album for young children is from The Manhattan Toy Company. Their soft, brightly colored photo book has room for five 4 x6 pictures. Easy to tuck into a backpack or comfort kit, it’s great for easing separation anxiety at day care or preschool.
Photo courtesy of The Manhattan Toy Company
While there are apps with relaxing images which are helpful, sometimes you just want a child to disconnect from electronics.
A photo album of peaceful places or things that relax your child can be individualized. I know a child who made a photo album of dogs and horses to keep in her bedroom’s cozy corner.
Relaxation videos distract children from their fears which helps them relax. Many relaxation videos utilize guided imagery, enabling children to calm themselves.
Guided imagery is especially helpful for children who are anxious at bedtime. Using guided imagery with aromatherapy (see Body section below) creates a soothing evening ritual that calms children who have a hard time going to bed.
Guided imagery involves using all of the senses to produce a state of deep calm. Research validates that guided imagery can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, pain and, of course anxiety.
My favorite relaxation videos are from two companies, Corys Conscious Living and New Horizon.
Image courtesy of Corys Conscious Living
Corys guided imagery and relaxation videos also feature whimsical artwork and soothing stories and meditations to help children relax and fall asleep. My favorite children’s products from Cory are:
and the book and guided meditation Sarah’s Rainbow Angel.
These videos are available free on her YouTube channel, or they can be purchased and downloaded as audio MP3s or eBooks.
Sarah’s Rainbow Angel is available on Amazon and audiobook. I especially like how the book promotes healing and colors. Very calming for children with chronic illnesses and anxiety about not feeling well.
New Horizon Holistic Centre produces beautiful free relaxation videos, guided meditations and relaxation music on YouTube. (Their products can also be purchased to download.)
Photo courtesy of New Horizon Holistic Centre
Try guided imagery with your child. I think you will be amazed how well it works to comfort your child…and yourself as well.
Bibliotherapy means using books to promote positive mental health. While there are books that are especially written as bibliotherapy, dealing with a particular topic like anxiety, bullying or depression, any book can have bibliotherapeutic benefits.
Keep copies of favorite books in your child’s relaxation area, bedroom, and in a traveling comfort kit.
Picture books, with soothing illustrations are very calming for anxious children.
One of my favorite bibliotherapy books for school anxiety is The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn, illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak.
It tells the story of Chester, the raccoon, who is nervous about going to school for the first time. When his mother gives him a kiss to hold in his paw, Chester realizes that his mother’s love is with him wherever he goes.
In the image below, my daughter’s slightly worn copy of The Kissing Hand sits on a shelf with her favorite Warm Buddy.
Another favorite is Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Paul Yalowitz.
My daughter’s copy of Mr. Hatch (below) was a gift from Grandma Elaine, who had the book autographed by the author, making it even more special.
I’ve used this book, with beautiful colored pencil illustrations, to help children with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and those who struggle with shyness.
Children love listening to stories.
There’s nothing quite like snuggling up and hearing a favorite story read aloud..so calming and relaxing.
When mom, dad or a favorite caregiver aren’t there to read, how about Kevin Costner, Melissa Gilbert, Sean Astin, Christian Slater or any of a number of celebrated actors?
Storylineonline.net produces YouTube videos of famous actors not just reading favorite children’s books, but really bringing them to life.
This fabulous free children’s literacy website features beloved classics like Harry the Dirty Dog and The Rainbow Fish and newer releases like Clark the Shark and Hey, That’s MY Monster!
And yes, The Kissing Hand and Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch are available on this beautiful website. 🙂
With the book’s illustrations enhanced and engaging background music, Storylineonline.net creates an engaging literacy experience for children at home, school or in hospital or hospice settings.
As an added bonus, each story has two resource guides (written by credentialed educators) one for parents and one for teachers, which provide additional learning experiences for children to enjoy after listening to the story, if desired.
The website, available 24/7, has an extended library of classic and newer books to choose from with a variety of themes and topics.
The books are chosen to appeal to children from Pre-kindergarten through 5th grade.
I think Storylineonline.net might also appeal to older children and tweens and teens. Even adults. Who doesn’t like to listen to a good story and see beautiful illustrations brought to life?
Children can watch on a computer or with an app that is available for Apple and Android products.
Finding the right children’s book to meet your child’s emotional needs is a daunting task. There are so many issues children face, and so many books.
It’s hard to know where to begin.
Fortunately Little Parachutes, another fabulous and free resource, offers guidance in selecting books to help children with the challenges that come their way.
The website, with soothing whimsical artwork, showcases picture books that help children with all issues “big and small.” Topics include, but aren’t limited to:
- Behavioral Challenges
- Comfort Objects
- Mental Health Challenges
- Parent Incarceration
While they may not have a book to cover every concern facing a child, it sure seems like they do.
Check out their website whenever you need a book to help your child through a difficult time.
Little Parachutes also recommends books on ages and stages types of things, like using the potty, adjusting to a new sibling, or moving to a new home.
Sometimes anxious children need to move.
Research proves that the endorphins produced by exercise reduce stress, increase happiness and block negative feelings.
Squeezing soft scented dough, using a chewy or fiddling with a fidgit also reduces nervous energy.
Occupational therapists know that these types of objects can help children feel grounded and peaceful.
Other times an anxious child needs to be still, wrapped in warmth, gentle weight or a cozy sleeve. (Think of how newborn babies sleep best, swaddled in a soft blanket.)
Observe your children when they are anxious or overwhelmed.
Children who respond to anxiety physically (or externally) often deal with stress by getting out of control: they run around, jump on furniture, rock, or maybe bang their heads.
Children who internalize anxiety may retreat to their bedroom and bury themselves under their blankets, just needing time and space to calm down.
I’ve got recommendations for anxiety-easing products that help children meet their needs to move or calm their bodies.
Trampolines, Swings, Slings and Tents
Occupational therapists and special education teachers know the value of having these resources in the classroom or the clinic.
You can get them for your home, at reasonable prices, so your child can bounce, swing or sling anxiety away.
With proper supervision, trampolines, (especially mini-trampolines that fit easily in any room) allow anxious children to increase their endorphins, like serotonin and dopamine, while releasing jumping their stress, anxiety or anger in a healthy, positive manner.
Rhythmic motions, like swinging, send calming messages to the brain. Swinging helps overstimulated children relax. Children who are under-stimulated get the right amount of energy to boost their mood from the swing’s back and forth motion.
Indoor swings that are suspended from door frames are great for use in all climates.
Photos courtesy of Fun and Function Company
Try it yourself: the next time you are anxious, stressed or in a bad mood, get physical. Run, jump, swing…move! You’ll notice an improvement in your mood, guaranteed.
Tents, sleeves and hammocks provide a soothing shelter for children who need privacy when feeling overwhelmed.
Special needs products companies have many tents, sleeves and hammocks to choose from, or you can make your own by draping a blanket over a chair or even using a large box.
Remember the joy you had as a child, building a fort from sofa seat cushions? You had your own private hideaway.
Anxious kids need hideaways too.
Photos courtesy of Fun and Function Company
Snuggle sheets, available at The Fun and Function Company, provide light compression for children who enjoy the feeling of a gentle hug. As with any product, use them with supervision.
Photo courtesy of Fun and Function Company
It’s important to provide your shelter-seeking child with a cozy space to regroup and self-calm.
You can find many of these products at big box stores or online outlets, but as a special education teacher, I highly recommend the Fun and Function Company.
Founded by occupational therapists, the Fun and Function has a great selection of sensory products and resources to meet every child’s sensory needs.
Special education teachers and occupational therapists use weighted blankets, lap pads, vests and backpacks for children with anxiety and autism spectrum or sensory processing disorders, who are relaxed by deep pressure stimulation.
Weighted products provide gentle weight that calms a child’s vestibular system, helping them feel more relaxed and grounded.
With the advice of your child’s physician or occupational therapist, consider a weighted blanket, lap pad or vest.
Weighted lap pads that can be gently heated in the microwave provide the added bonus of weighted warmth.
Photo courtesy of Fun and Function Company
Even in the summer, you’ll find me in my office writing with a weighted blanket from The Warm Buddy Company, like the one below, on my lap.
Photo courtesy of the Warm Buddy Company
On a personal note: I was getting close to deadline for a writing project and feeling very stressed. Like most people, when I’m stressed, I don’t do my best thinking.
While I don’t drink coffee, I felt as if I had just downed a couple of expressos. I heated my Warm Buddy Weighted Blanket in the microwave and sat down at my desk to write. Within minutes I felt all the stress and anxiety disappear and the words began to flow from my brain onto my keyboard. That is the magic of a weighted blanket. (I completed the assignment and think I owe it to my Warm Buddy blanket.)
Special education teachers use weighted lap pads and blankets to help children relax and focus in the classroom.
The Warm Buddy Company has a great line of products, including stuffed animals that can be warmed in the microwave to help children relax, fall asleep, or find pain relief.
Photo Courtesy of Lora’s Weighted Blankets
Soft, Scented Doughs
I always gave my students little “party-sized” tubs of play dough to keep on their desks. Holding and squeezing the dough relaxed my students, calming anxiety and helping those with attention difficulties to better focus.
Recipes for making your own play dough are all over the internet. Making your own is economical and a fun project to do with your child or students.
For the best quality, and the most soothing scents and colors, I highly recommend Pinch Me Therapy Dough. I just can’t get enough of this product!
Photo Courtesy of Pinch Me Therapy Dough
Nancy Rothner, creator of Pinch Me Therapy Dough says, “As a clinical hypnotherapist who specializes in stress reduction, I’ve seen first-hand the toll that tension takes on the mind and body.”
“Pinch Me Therapy Dough was developed using the proven scientific methodology of color and scent. It’s a simple, holistic, non-prescription, drug free, “as-needed” stress reducer that can be used anytime, anywhere.”
Gently infused with calming aromatherapy oils, Pinch Me Therapy doughs feel amazing in your hands. With ten scents to choose from, you’re sure to find one that your child likes.
My favorites are citrus and melon. And let me tell you, once you hold Pinch Me Therapy Dough in your hand, you don’t want to put it down. It feels that good!
As with all products, supervise little ones or those with cognitive challenges to make sure they don’t eat it. With such delicious scents, you might be tempted yourself.
(For my readers in Australia, try the wonderful doughs from Happy Hands Happy Hearts like vanilla, lemon and cinnamon.)
Chewies and Fidgits
If you’ve ever seen a ragged pencil stub that’s been nibbled to almost nothing, with teeth marks denting the metal holding the eraser, then you understand why chewies are indispensable for anxious kids who like to chew.
If your child comes home from school each day with a wrinkled wet shirtsleeve or collar, a bite band might be in order.
Children who need to bite will find anything to bite, pencils, clothes, fingernails, erasers, even jewelry.
There is a chewie for every child: necklaces, bracelets, pencil toppers, wrist bands, and even bite bands (cloth bands, that absorb moisture, to keep a child from biting his shirt.)
Photo courtesy of Fun and Function Company
With styles suitable for boys and girls of all ages, children have many stigma-free options to satisfy their need to chew.
In addition to chewies and pencil toppers, a variety of fidgits give anxious children something to hold on to when they feel anxious or “fidgety”.
Fidgit toys can be as simple as a smooth worry stone or pebble to tuck into a pocket, a squishy stress ball, therapy putty, or any small item that brings your child comfort to hold.
Keep fidgits handy for times that are stressful for your child like going to the doctor or dentist, waiting in a check-out line, and, depending on their age, when they are falling asleep. (I know a little boy who couldn’t fall asleep unless he held a smooth stone in the palm of his hand.)
Pebbles are one of the most calming and inexpensive items for your child’s comfort kit. (Provided your child is old enough not to place small objects in his mouth.)
You can find smooth stones on a nature walk, or buy some at a discount store or garden center. There are many shapes, colors and designs.
Sometimes keeping a pebble in their pocket is all children need to feel more peaceful when in a stressful situation.
Sometimes children enjoy the feeling of running their fingers through a bowl of cool smooth stones.
My classroom’s relaxation area always had a bowl of stones, like the one pictured, for children to touch when they were anxious. It worked so well, many parents began keeping stones in their homes and reported back that the stones worked wonders for calming their child with stress and anxiety.
Worry Stones, which can be purchased online, are smooth, colorful gemstones, often in an oval shape, that have a thumb print indentation.
Coloring Books and Crayons.
Coloring books help calm and center children, especially those with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) who need to feel a sense of control.
Brenda Richards, OTR/L, an occupational therapist who specializes in working with young children says that coloring is calming because of its soothing repetitive, rhythmic motion.
Most children and adults find rhythmic movements relaxing.
Images courtesy of Crayola®
Coloring books and colored pencils are popular with children and adults.
My favorite Snoopy coloring book and a box of Crayolas® have helped me relax when I am anxious.
There are many brands of crayons, but in my opinion, none have the quality and color choices of Crayolas®.
Crayolas® are classics, a rainbow of colors with evocative names.
Just reading their crayon labels can transport your mind to a more peaceful place.
Think about the images elicited by their crayons Sky Blue, Wild Blue Yonder and Mountain Meadow.
Don’t you feel better already? 🙂
When children rely on faith and prayer, they find comfort and an inner peace that they can’t get anywhere else.
Children might enjoy having a designated prayer place in their room or a special corner, that they can fill with items they find meaningful and relaxing like a prayer shawl, prayer beads, prayer rugs, a palm cross, etc.
The following products are some of my favorites.
Prayer beads help children connect with God by giving them something to hold that reminds them of God.
Many children (and adults) like the calming feeling of soft beads moving through their fingers.
Think of prayer beads as a “spiritual” tool that helps their hands settle as they focus their minds on prayer.
You can make prayer beads with your child (direction are easy to find with a Google search) or purchase them online (Etsy stores sell some beautiful prayer beads.)
A palm cross is a gently curved wooden cross that fits in your hands when you pray.
My favorite is from ByRon PalmCross®. This soft, smooth wood cross feels amazing to hold when you pray, and brings great comfort in times of anxiety. I have given this cross to many friends going through challenging times.
Photos courtesy of ByRon PalmCross®
The ByRon PalmCross® website has many styles to choose from. Each cross is handmade with love. Ron is a wonderful man I have talked with many times. Making these crosses is a labor of love for him. Ron says that people tell him that, “Holding the PalmCross® is like holding God’s hand in prayer.”
They are that special. I know many people who fall asleep holding it in their hands, myself included.
Aromatherapy means using the essences of plants in the form of essential oils to help calm and heal mind, body and spirit.
Retha Nesmith, CMO and Certified Aromatherapist at Plant Therapy Inc. says that our sense of smell is an amazing tool.
(I don’t think we use aromatherapy enough with children.)
“How many times have we smelled something that reminded us of Grandma’s house or growing up and it instantly brought back emotions? Our sense of smell is one of the best tools we can use in relaxation. Many essential oils are known to be calming and relaxing. As we play with these oils and get to know them, we can find the perfect blend of essential oils that can instantly calm an anxious child.”
The safest and most common essential oils to use for children are:
My favorite calming scents are orange, vanilla and lavender.
You can use aromatherapy oils by placing a few drops in a diffuser, in a diffuser necklace, on a cloth like a pillowcase, or on a comfort object, like a blanket or teddy bear.
Remember: The Warm Buddy Company’s Warm Up Plush Animals are great for aromatherapy, with their removable inner packs.
Keep aromatherapy oils in a child proof location and use them with adult supervision.
If you have allergy concerns, check with your child’s doctor.
Remember, like anything else, aromatherapy calms some children, but others don’t respond to it very well.
You will have to try it and see what essences your child likes.
My favorite aromatherapy products are from Plant Therapy which makes a great line of “KidSafe” aromatherapy products just for kids.
Photo courtesy of Plant Therapy, Inc.
For helping a child calm down I love “Calming the Child” in an easy-to-apply rollerball, or “PJ’s Blend”, an essential oil that smells like citrus and vanilla. Very relaxing, and not overpowering.
Their essential oils, formulated formulated by top aromatherapists, are safe for children when used as directed.
Plant Therapy sells accessories and products like plush toys with aromatherapy inserts, and many types of diffusers, including necklaces.
Creating a calming bath and night routine helps children helps children fall asleep. One of my favorite bath products is Aveeno Stress Relief Body wash, scented with lavender and vanilla. On the pricey side, Lush makes some great citrus bath products that are handmade, vegetarian, and never tested on animals.
Music has a very calming effect on children. Many child therapists I consult with for this website use them in their practice and with their own children.
Many children find music with nature sounds, like waves, whispering brooks or birds chirping to be calming.
Its part of that “bringing nature indoors” movement and it really is healing.
Whatever your child’s favorite music, chances are, listening to that music produces positive emotions. When children need to calm down, soft instrumental music is often a good choice.
Back in the day, I played CDs of relaxation music in my classroom throughout the day.
The sounds of a mountain creek trickling over river rocks muted the sound of the school’s boiler room (next to my resource room) and turned our space into a tranquil place.
Now it’s easy to find relaxation music on apps like Pandora or Spotify. I know children who enjoy watching YouTube videos with soothing video images and beautiful musical soundtracks.
My favorites are:
- Yellow Brick Cinema
- Balu Relaxing Nature
- Relax Your Mind
- OCB Relaxation (which has music just for kids)
Guided Imagery ( also see “Mind” section)
Guided Imagery programs blend words and soothing music to help listeners use meditations to guide their imaginations to places of calm and healing.
I have never used these in the classroom, because I prefer to teach kids who are awake. When my kids were younger I used guided imagery to help them fall asleep.
In addition to the aforementioned guided imagery creators, Corys Conscious Living and New Horizon, Relax Kids, also has great guided imagery products. Their MP3 albums and audio CDs for Anxiety and Worry and Nature Meditations are my favorites.
I also love their book The Wishing Star, available on the Relax Kids website, or Amazon.
The Wishing Star is one of their many guided meditation books.
With adorable pictures and an enchanting, imaginative story, each meditation helps anxious children calm their minds and bodies.
(My daughter’s book , pictured below, helped her fall asleep when she was afraid of storms at night. She still keeps the book on her shelf, ten years later.)
This list is a starting point, and I hope you will find some items that bring your child (or your students) calm and comfort.
(Maybe even yourself.)
Children’s health, safety and emotional well-being are priceless. You and your child’s doctor know your child best.
Products recommended may not be suitable for all ages and abilities. Consider this when purchasing products or trying resources.
Supervision may be necessary with some or all items.
I’d love to hear what products/resources work for your child or the children in your classroom.
Let me know and I will add them to the list.
Please share this list with your child’s teachers, therapists, and anyone you know who knows an anxious child (or adult).
Wishing you peace for mind, body and spirit,