If your child is struggling with anxiety due to Covid, they are not on their own. Anxiety issues in children as young as five years of age are on the increase but there is much we can do to help children. One of them is Emotional Freedom Technique, which is gaining popularity due to its rapid results with emotional issues, including anxiety.
What is EFT?
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), or ‘tapping’ as it’s often known, is an evidence-based technique used in schools, hospitals, by clinicians and lay people. You simply tap on certain points on the face and upper body whilst focusing on the problem and speaking it out loud. EFT has also been shown in clinical trials to lower cortisol levels (stress hormone) in children, in as little as one hour. Thoughts act as ‘triggers’ which stimulate the amygdala and can start the ‘fight, flight’ response. Tapping on certain points reduces the stimulus and, in turn, calms the body. EFT is also referred to as:
|• A calming technique;
• A stress reduction technique;
• An emotional or psychological version of acupuncture.
When should I use it on my child?
The best time to use EFT on children is when they complain of a problem or bad feeling. We get them to focus on the sensation in their body as they think about it and get them to tap on the points in the diagram whilst repeating the problem.
You can access How to Tap from https://www.eftandmindfulness.com/videos/how-to-tap
Validate your child’s anxiety before using EFT: Recognise that their feelings and thoughts are real. As trivial as a fear may seem, it feels real to your child and it’s causing him or her to feel anxious and afraid. Being able to talk about fears helps — words often take some of the power out of the negative feeling. If you talk about it, it can become less powerful. Saying ‘it’s OK, it will go away’ doesn’t reassure the child, it can actually increase the anxiety. Remember, they have already tried not to think about it. When using EFT on their problem, listen carefully to the way they describe how they feel and repeat back (paraphrase). Do not go into how you would feel or think please!
Your child may be humiliated, shamed or embarrassed by his/her fears. Recognise this and empathise with your child. Never belittle the fear as a way of forcing your child to overcome it. Saying, “Don’t be ridiculous! There are no monsters in your closet!” may get your child to go to bed, but it won’t make the fear go away.
Using words such as “I can sense this must scare you” validates their feelings. Here is how it could go for a child who regularly gets stomach ache when going to school. You can adapt to be age appropriate. P= Parent C=Child.
P: You can start off with “I notice whenever you have to go to school, you get this stomach ache or feel sick . Shall we talk about it and see if I can help? Sometimes children don’t want to or know how to describe how they feel so here you can help them out.
P: How does it feel in your body when you think about (say) going to school tomorrow? (You could also use a body chart for them to show you where they feel it).
C: My stomach hurts and I feel sick.
P: I guess you’d like to feel better so how about we try some of that tapping stuff that kids do to help you feel better? Let me show you how we tap and I’ll do it with you. Now, think of going to school tomorrow and notice how it makes you feel and we will both tap together. I’ll start and you can tell me any other words that come to mind… Let’s both tap on the side of the hand and say “When I think of going to school tomorrow I get so scared because ____ (now you tell me what word to put in here). The child says…
C: I might get sick.
P: That’s great! You’re doing really well. Let’s tap on that then. (Continue tapping on side of hand) I’m so scared I’ll get sick but I want to tap it away. Now let’s go to the other points (tap on eyebrow, side of eye, under eye, under nose, upper lip, collar bone as you repeat those words and really feel them because we want to make them go away) and keep saying why you’re really scared.
After a few rounds of tapping, ask how they feel and then ask why they think they will get sick and what kind of sick. Is it something they heard in school or at home or on the TV? A lot of children are scared of Covid and sometimes it may not be about them getting it but more about their parents getting sick. Establish the origin and help the child tap on it. Start by getting them to tap on the side of the hand “I’m scared my Mum/Dad will get Covid and be sick but I want to tap it away.” Continue tapping on the rest of the points as you ask them where they heard this. Get them to think about where and when they heard it and tap for it. For example: “The kids at school told me”, “I heard it on the TV”. Always encourage them to notice the feeling as they say these words.
At all times, keep very calm, use a gentle voice and keep telling them how well they are doing. Explain how some thoughts make them feel certain emotions/feelings.
This gives you some idea of how to use tapping on that situation. You use the same tapping protocol on other situations but change the words according to the child’s thoughts and feelings.
Talk with your child about anxiety and that it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with them. The best people suffer from anxiety but it can be managed. Use some books on the subject if necessary.
Deal with your own anxiety: Parents are the best role models, so seek help for your own anxiety as children can pick up on yours.
Don’t feed their anxiety: It can be tempting for parents to want to alleviate their child’s anxiety by helping them to avoid it but this only allows the anxiety to continue. If your child is anxious about going to a party because they have a fear of balloons for example, then it would not be a good idea to tell them it’s OK not to go to the party but instead work out what might be causing the anxiety. Parents can inadvertently become ‘enablers’ of the problem if they’re not careful. If your child doesn’t like dogs, don’t cross the street deliberately to avoid one. This will just reinforce that dogs should be feared and avoided. Provide support and gentle care as you approach the feared object or situation with your child and continue reassuring him/her.
Help them in other ways :
- Explain how much is being done to treat the virus;
- How many people are working to protect us;
- Set aside a ‘worry time’;
- Read the Mr Men book ‘Mr Worry’;
- Show the film ‘Inside Out’ and talk about emotions;
- Talk about ideas on how they would help a friend with the same worry.
Seek professional help…
- If the anxiety seems extreme or lasts past the normal age;
- If your child has stopped doing important things like not wanting to be left alone, go to school etc;
- If the anxiety causes your child to have anger tantrums;
- If your child has physical symptoms that concern you.
There are more useful techniques in the ‘Toolkit on Managing Anxiety in Young People’ that can be purchased from the www.eftandmindfuless.com website under Training Products > Ebooks. You can also find a list of members who can help you or your child use EFT on a range of issues, including anxiety. We can also offer a programme for your school (www.eftineducation.com).
Helena Fone is a UK qualified psychotherapist, a Fellow of the Nat. Council of Psychotherapists, an accredited trainer of EFT and accredited teacher of Mindfulness in schools. She has many years’ experience as a psychotherapist and trainer of EFT and Mindfulness to adults and children. Helena is author of the internationally acclaimed book, EFT for Dummies, translated into three other languages and was responsible for raising the standards of teaching EFT worldwide. Helena also contributed to the development of the RESCUR Programme in Malta – a resilience curriculum for early years and primary schools. She also set up the first EFT Directory and resource portal in 2009 which is now the EFT & Mindfulness Centre. Helena is founder of the training organisation EFT & Mindfulness Centre, as well as the EFT in Education and Mindfulness in Education programmes.