How Hypnotherapy Helps Kids with Anxiety
Does your child have trouble focusing in school? The school day is long and packed with so much information, so few breaks, and so little time outdoors, it’s no wonder kids find themselves fidgeting or tuning out in class. Many parents first consider hypnotherapy for their child for working with an issue at school. Hypnotherapy can help your child increase their focus and concentration and relieve anxiety in order to have a more successful academic career.
In addition to school success, hypnosis is incredibly beneficial for kids with anxiety. Kids today are under a lot of pressure. For adolescents, social media can often offer unrealistic expectations of happiness and fulfillment. Many times even very young kids are under extreme amounts of pressure for school performance, including pressures from teachers to perform well on standardized tests.
How does hypnotherapy work with kids?
Kids love hypnosis because they are naturally imaginative. Kids don’t doubt the power of their own mind. They believe it 100%! Young children are naturally in hypnosis most of the time. They are wide open to the world around them and it’s very easy to teach them to use this to their advantage. In the state of hypnosis, kids learn to cultivate their imagination for problem-solving and coping skills. According to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, “Because hypnosis allows people to use more of their potential, learning self-hypnosis is the ultimate act of self-control.”
Older kids and teens also enjoy hypnosis because they are able to vent out stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions. They are able to use the hypnotic state to release emotional and physical tension without having to verbalize their feelings. Children often have trouble expressing their emotions (just like adults), so being able to use their mind and imagination to create solutions for the everyday stresses of life is very comforting to them.
Kids are natural problem solvers, and when given the opportunity, often have wonderfully creative solutions to the issues in their lives.
What happens during a pediatric hypnotherapy session?
Typically, the parents and child will meet with the hypnotherapist to discuss what the parents have in mind, as well as the child’s goals. Using creative play, beading, drawing, or crafts, the child can work out a solution to their issue. They then spend about 15 minutes in a very relaxed state, reinforcing the ideas to the subconscious mind. Often, there are techniques or tools provided that can be used every day.
How Hypnosis Counteracts Anxiety
An anxious child spends a lot of time with the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) activated. By anchoring in slow, deep breathing in the hypnotic state during a hypnotherapy session, the child can create an automatic association for this relaxing breathing at times of high stress (e.g. going in to take a test), which activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
And that’s not the only way hypnosis can help an anxious child. It’s impossible to feel relaxation and stress at the same time, so by getting the child focused on a situation where they feel very calm, the hypnotherapist can assist the child in building a positive association rather than a negative one.
For a child who has difficulty taking tests, a mental rehearsal can be set up beginning with the morning of the test. This way the child has gone through the entire day, from getting up and eating a healthy breakfast, getting ready for school, the bus or car ride to school, walking into school, etc. By going through each and every step of the process, your child or teen can identify those aspects of the process that are most likely to trigger anxiety. Perhaps your kid feels great right up until the moment that they’re sitting down to take the test. Another child might feel anxious the moment they open their eyes. By identifying the times and situations that feel the most stressful, your child can come up with a plan for lowering the intensity of those feelings. Practicing each phase of the situation over and over again allows the mind to recognize that we’ve done this, many times before.
This mental rehearsal process is very common for athletes. Many athletes use guided imagery or hypnosis to help them improve their game. This same technique can be tailored to kids (or adults) of any age to feel more in control when participating in anything from an oral presentation to a soccer game to the SATs.
Hypnosis at Home
How can you help your child practice these skills? One easy and fun exercise for younger kids is building a “special place.” This place could be situated in nature and it can be an actual place where the child feels very happy and comfortable, or it could be a place that exists only in their imagination. Examples include:
a. The beach
b. The garden
c. The soccer field
d. The park
Help your child to vividly imagine this place, incorporating all five senses. What do they see? What colors are they noticing? Do they hear the sounds of laughter? What does the grass feel like under their feet? What do they smell? Do they taste the ocean air on their tongue?
Let them build this imaginary place as strongly as they like. This is a great exercise to incorporate into the bedtime routine. Tell them a story set in this special place, focusing on using all five senses as well as how it feels emotionally for your child to be there. Do they feel safe? Brave? Confident? Special?
The positive emotions associated with this special place are just as important as using these senses. Make up hero type stories for your child that take place within this place while they simply breathe deeply and comfortably with their eyes closed. And if they fall asleep – great! Soon they can use “going to their special place” as a self soothing technique to help them fall asleep quickly and deeply. This is a tool that will serve them well into adulthood.
For a child who struggles with anxiety, hypnotherapy can be a real gift. They learn how to be in control of their feelings and focus their attention somewhere else (e.g. their “special place”) in order to take the pressure off the situation at hand. They have more options for dealing with their emotions.
If you are looking to experience hypnosis firsthand, find a hypnotherapist near you.