Monthly Archive

How to Reduce Anxiety: Yours and Your Child’s Part II

By: Gary G. Brannigan, Ph.D. and Howard Margolis, Ed.D. coauthors of Reading Disabilities: Beating The Odds.
Reprinted with the express permission of the authors as originally published on their blog,
NB: This article is written for the parents of children who have Anxiety and related problems. We publish it here because we know that therapists like to give their client’s caregivers as much information as possible.
Because excessive anxiety is so harmful to children and their parents, this post will describe two relaxation strategies, offer guidance, and discuss how parents of children in special education can request relaxation training as a related service.
Relaxation Strategies
Because they work, Visual Imagery and Count Your Breath have withstood the test of time. But like all relaxation strategies, they work better for some people. If one of these works for you, and you enjoy it, stick with it. Don’t complicate your life by adding another strategy. The same is true for your child: Let him use the one that works for him, the one he enjoys.
Visual Imagery. Visual imagery asks your child to imagine a peaceful scene, such as waves lapping the shore on a hot day. Many excellent scripts (e.g., Smith, 1999) and inexpensive mp3 downloads (Lori Lite, Amazon) can set the scene. Mp3 files have music, narrative, distinct environmental sounds, such as birds singing, or a combination of these. If practical, when using mp3 files, let your child use an mp3 player. To personalize the mp3 file, you or your child’s teacher might make an mp3 file by reading a script into a digital voice recorder. Some children love the personalization—it makes them more comfortable and relaxed. Of course, the subject matter of the mp3 file or script must be appropriate for your child; the scene must be familiar to him and appropriate for his age.
For your child to develop his imagery abilities, he’ll probably need practice. In preparatory sessions, you or a relaxation trainer, such as a school psychologist or guidance counselor, might ask him to describe all he sees in a self-induced scene, down to the most minute detail. The trainer might then ask him to share what he imagined. If he has problems imagining, the trainer might ask him to focus on adjectives and colors. For example, the trainer might ask your child to repeat, “Relaxation is peaceful and comfortable. It’s warm and yellow like the sun.” If he then closes his eyes and imagines sitting near a pond on a sunny day, seeing the top of the water sparkle in yellow sunlight, and feeling the sun warm his body, he may soon feel relaxed. Or the trainer might show him large color photos of scenes he finds familiar, enjoyable, and relaxing, and ask him to describe it in detail, when he’s looking at it, and later, when he can’t see it, but can only imagine it.
Count Your Breath. Whereas visualization or imagery sounds complex and difficult, Count Your Breath sounds simple and easy, and it is. You just have to do a little modeling and your child has to practice a bit. Here’s a typical set of directions to give him:

  • Breathe in slowly and deeply and smoothly and hold your breath. As you breathe in, I’ll slowly count to 4 for you.
  • Now, hold your breath while I’ll slowly count to 4 for you.
  • Now, slowly and smoothly let your breath out while I’ll slowly count to 4 for you.
  • Let’s start again.

I suggest that you start with four rounds of breathing in and out, twice daily, and gradually build up to 5-minutes, twice daily. As he becomes adept at counting his breath, have him count silently to himself. Instead of saying, “I’ll slowly count to 4 for you,” teach him to count slowly to himself. You might teach him to say, “As I breathe in, I’ll slowly count to 4 in my mind.”
As with all relaxation strategies, see what works for your child, what he can do comfortably, what he likes. Make it fun. Model it. Let him see that it’s fun for you. If you find teaching him is too difficult, have a relaxation expert teach him. Be sure, however, that he likes the expert and looks forward to their sessions. In the final analysis, if he doesn’t like a strategy, drop it. It won’t work.
Starting to see results may take four to six weeks of daily relaxation. The key word in the previous sentence is not weeks, but daily. Daily practice is needed for children to benefit and for relaxation to become a way of life.
In addition to lessened anxiety, you might well see these benefits: better attention, better sleep, less impulsivity, less frustration, better social relations. And if anxiety had been interfering with learning to read, better reading. Frey (1980), for example, found that relaxation training had a positive effect on the reading achievement of remedial readers. Any one of these benefits can support relaxation training as a related service.
Related Service
If your child is eligible for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA-2004), and excessive anxiety has been blocking his progress, consider asking for daily relaxation training as a related service. Although schools rarely have provided it—historically, it’s not been part of the curriculum—if your child needs the support of relaxation training to benefit from special education, the school should provide it as part of his Individualized Education Program (IEP). Support for this request comes from IDEA-2004’s definition of related services:
Related services means … such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education. (IDEA-2004 Regulations § 300.34 )
Whenever you make a request for a related service, be sure that:

  • Your child needs the service to benefit from special education.
  • You have the documentation needed to justify the service, including reports from experts.
  • You make your request in writing, date it, and save copies of it.

If the school rejects your request, it must provide detailed reasons in writing. If it rejects your request, ask, in person and in writing, “How will you ensure that my child’s anxiety difficulties, difficulties that are interfering with his ability to benefit from special education, are effectively remediated? How will I quickly know if your way of lessening his anxiety is working?”
Frey, H. (1980). Improving the performance of poor readers through autogenic relaxation training, Reading Teacher, 33, 928–932.
Manzoni, G., Pagnini, F., Castelnuovo, G., & Molinari, E. (2008). Relaxation training for anxiety: a ten-years systematic review with meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry, 8(1), 41. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-8-41.
Smith, J. C. (1999). Relaxation Training: A Practical Guide for Health Professionals. NY: Springer Publishing.
This column was originally published by Gary G. Brannigan, Ph.D., and Howard Margolis, Ed.D., on their blog. Gary and Howard are authors of Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds, a book to help parents identify their children’s reading difficulties, work with schools, and if necessary, challenge schools to get their children the services they need.
This Month’s Featured Authors: Gary G. Brannigan, Ph.D. and Howard Margolis, Ed.D. coauthors of Reading Disabilities: Beating The Odds. 
This column was originally published by Dr. Gary G. Brannigan (Professor of Clinical and School Psychology at the State University of New York –Plattsburgh) and Dr. Howard Margolis (Professor Emeritus of Reading and Special Education at the City University of New York).  They coauthored Reading Disabilities: Beating The Odds, a book to help parents identify their children’s reading difficulties, understand special education law, work with schools, and, if necessary, challenge schools

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