Preparing Your Anxious Child for a New Experience

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Headache - tiverylucky - freedigitalphotos.netPreparing Your Anxious Child for a New ExperienceBy Julie Meekins

Sometimes it is fear driven. Sometimes it is just black and white thinking. Sometimes it is living in status quo and being happy to stay there. Whatever it is, some of our children have trouble with new experiences.

Here are some tips to calm the chaos that can happen with our children who have a hard time with something new.


Observation and research.

  • Gather as much information as you can about what to expect with this new experience.  For example, maybe you want your child to go to Vacation Bible School at your church. You child wants to go to VBS but you both are concerned. In times past when your child entered into a new experience, it only took minutes for the meltdown to hit. One thing that might help ward off the meltdown is being able to share with him or her what kinds of things to expect.  You can get this information from the director, the child’s teachers, kids and their parents who have attended in previous VBS weeks at this church.
  • Identify three main focus points: example *when the child arrives, *when it is time to go to another place with your class, *when it is time to leave, or *when it is time to play games, *when it is snack time, *when it is story time, or whatever are concerns for your child.
  • Think about your child and what you know sets him or her off. What would be helpful for them to know or do to ward this off? For example, knowing your child melts down when they don’t know what is next, or when they are told “no” or “wait”.

Prepping the Tools

Charts – create communication through charts. Whatever it is that you want your child to know, create a chart for him to view many times ahead of time. For example, if you want him to know the layout of the church where he will be attending the VBS, create a map and walk him through it with a small car or his finger. Another example: if you want her to know the schedule of events, create a rough timeline and have her visit it often before the event.

Continuing with the VBS example, perhaps the director and leaders of VBS will let you bring your child to the building and introduce him or her to the classroom and other places where events will take place.

Digital recordings – write a script filled with information you want your child to know to combat some of her struggles. For example, if she has a hard time when things don’t go according to plan and you want to teach flexibility, perhaps you can write and record a script like this: “sometimes things do not go according to plan, but at VBS the teachers and guides will do what is best. All is okay. You are good. Just go along with what the adults tell you to do next even if you are not expecting it or even if we haven’t talked about it”. [The script should include language that assumes that the child has already captured that particular social skill – as if it has already happened.]

Social Stories – make your child the center of a story that you create. Put him in places and situations and give him ideas of best ways to respond.

Stress balls – your child can keep a stress ball in his or her pocket. The opportunity to squeeze the ball (or other object) has been very helpful for kids who ten to get anxious.


Now that your tools are in place, use the charts and digital recordings and social stories to set your child up for success. Always work in the idea of flexibility and that it is okay if things go a little differently.


Sometimes it is helpful to give the director or assistants or teachers a heads up about your child. Without giving his or her whole life story, share some strategies that could be helpful for your child in certain settings.

Consider emailing the leaders ahead of time and/or sending a communications sheet with your child explaining those strategies.

You might even suggest that your child meet the people in charge and who will be working with him or her before the event.

There are often root causes keeping our kids stuck in their development. While the above ideas are very effective for kids in new situations, we recommend that we, as parents, always go deeper and seek to determine the root cause for the anxieties and struggles with which our kids are dealing. If you would like to discuss with us how we can help you determine root causes, consider requesting a Get Acquainted Call. For more information:

Julie Meekins


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