Dogs Helping Kids With Anxiety
Anxiety is felt by many people across the world and, in the UK alone, statistics are telling us that 1 in 6 children suffers from a form of anxiety.
While I always suggest that, if you suspect your child has anxiety, you get in touch with your GP, I would also like to share with you some advice on how your child can use the help of the family dog to focus on our senses when a panic attack hits.
To do this, the dog doesn't need any specific training, yet it can be incredibly helpful for your child to feel connected with himself again and retake control of his mind and body.
Sight: anxiety attacks can make you feel paralyzed. Your body might feel too tense to move, but your eyes will be able to concentrate on something, so why not the dog?
Guide your child through this technique, by asking him to notice something about the dog and focus on it. It can be her tail; what colour is it? How big or small is it? Is it moving or is it still? Concentrate on that!
Hear: while still observing the dog and the body part the child has chosen, ask the child to listen to your dog.
Can he hear her breathing? Barking? Playing? What is the doggy up to?
Smell: at this point, the sense of smell can help your child to further ground himself. Help your child to concentrate on smelling your dog at a distance.
Has she recently had a bath and you can still smell the doggy shampoo? Or has she been by the fire, so she smells a little toasty? Encourage your child to connect with that smell!
Touch: feeling the dog's fur on hands or feet can help your child's mind coming back and leave the state of anxiety. The best way to do this, is to call the dog over to you and your child. Don't approach the dog directly, as not to startle her (this will depend on what she's doing at that time).
When she's with you, guide your child to touch her fur gently and on a part of her body she likes.
Concentrate on feeling your dog's fur. is it soft? Is it wired? is it nice to the touch? Do you think your dog is enjoying it?
Taste: often, while experiencing a panic attack, our sense of taste is the last one to be reactivated. This is because our stomach 'closes up’, so eating might be the last thing on our mind. But at this stage, your child should be able to get up and have a drink (or ask for one).
Don't forget that even water can have flavours! To me, water tastes fresh, sweet and gives me a sense of well-being.
What about your kid? What does water taste like to your kid?
Your child might enjoy a different drink, like some orange juice, or a glass of milk. Whatever he is having, think about its flavour, what does it remind him of? Also, can the dog have it? If it's water, that is something your child could share with her, so why not asking your child to pour some fresh water in the dog's bowl?
And, just like that, your child is moving around and doing stuff for or with the dog... and you both soon realise that, together with your dog, your child has overcome a (or another) panic attack.
Please, bear in mind that I am not a child therapist and the technique explained above comes from my own experience with anxiety and my dogs.
However, the basic '5 senses grounding' is a widely used technique.