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Rituals to Reduce Anxiety

People often wonder how to help a child who gets nervous about going the doctor, or even anxious about going to school. Phrases like “There’s nothing to be afraid of” often don’t assuage their fears because the anxiety isn’t coming from a rational part of the brain. We can try to calm children when they’re feeing apprehensive, but one of the long-term ways we help them develop resilience – the ability to recover from setbacks and persist in spite of hardship – is by creating rituals designed to aid them in calming themselves, before, during, or after a difficult experience.

As a young person, did you develop a trick for settling your nerves before tests, like listening ahead of time to an empowering song or promising yourself a special treat afterward? Perhaps your method was taking deep breaths and imagining yourself in a safe place. Research shows that these – intentional practices, done consistently – anchor us in a feeling of security.

Rituals make everyday life predictable. Reading three books before bed. Playing a board game every Friday night. Stopping for ice cream after a soccer game. Parents of young children often have a ritual before school starts to ease separation anxiety at the classroom door – “We will have three hugs and a fist bump.”

When parents create rituals with children specifically to help alleviate anxiety, they lend their calm energy to children and provide a model for how to take care of themselves in the future. The child feels the parents’ stability as they engage in one of their rituals together – “Let’s hear our Beyonce song on the way to school!”

We are currently in a period when our schedules are disrupted by COVID and other viruses, and it’s important to try to reconstitute the rhythms of our lives and the predictable ways that make calming and connection a priority.

The power of the ritual lies in stepping out of the dailiness of life and putting our full minds and hearts, even momentarily, into the ritual activity before jumping back into life’s busy stream.


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