How Hypnosis Can Help Ease Kids’ COVID-Related Anxiety
For more than 20 years, Ran Anbar, MD, FAAP, a board certified pediatric pulmonologist, has offered clinical hypnosis to thousands of patients. He is the author of Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: Journey to the Center (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021).
Family Life: What are some of the misconceptions about hypnosis?
Ran Anbar, MD: The misconceptions are largely what are portrayed by Hollywood: Hypnosis is mind control. But that is a misconception in that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. People only do hypnosis when they want to.
FL: Are there ways parents can use what you teach to help their kids?
RA: Sure. My book is full of ideas for what parents can do. One thing that parents can do easily is to learn to speak in a positive manner. If you say something in a negative manner, such as “Stop yelling!,” the child focuses on the word yelling and then yells further. So a much better way to instruct children is to say, “Please be quiet.” Tell them what you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do. To children themselves, I teach, rather than saying, “I’m nervous” or “I’m scared,” say, “I want to be confident. I want to be calm.”
If you are feeling unhappy or poorly, imagine going to a calm, happy place, where you might have been or would like to go. When you imagine that location, you want to use all of your senses: What can you see, and hear, smell, and feel, and touch and taste? By imagining using all of your senses, it becomes more real and has a bigger effect on your emotions.
FL: So when you are under hypnosis, you can use affirming statements to “program” yourself to think differently. But it also sounds like you don’t have to be in a hypnotic trance to do this.
RA: Correct. The one thing that the hypnotic state allows is that it suspends critical judgment. If I said to an adult, “Calm down.” [The response may be] “I can’t calm down! If I knew how to calm down, I would have done it already.” But in hypnosis, I’ll say “Calm down!” and the person just says, “Alright.” With young kids, you can just give the suggestion without formal hypnosis. They just accept things.
FL: So how can hypnosis help kids experiencing pandemic-related anxiety?
RA: My book talks about dealing with COVID. When people become anxious, [it is because] they are thinking anxiety-provoking thoughts: “What happens if I get COVID? What happens if I infect my family members?” The way to deal with this is to shift your thinking. With or without hypnosis, it’s the same kind of mind shift. But with hypnosis it might be easier. Any bad event has good aspects to it. So what’s good about COVID? Well, when we went into lockdown, the environment cleaned up. People were stuck at home and got a chance to get to know their family members better. To the kids I was working with, I said, “Oh, you’ve got all this time you usually don’t have. Why don’t you develop a new skill or hobby?” So focus on the silver linings. And as you focus on those things then the things that made you anxious recede and you feel better.
FL: And is that what you do in a hypnosis session? Help people focus on the positive?
RA: When I do a hypnosis session I will teach them how to trigger their relaxation response. I will teach them how to associate a physical gesture, such as crossing fingers or making a fist, with relaxation. In hypnosis, they program themselves so that whenever they make the physical gesture—the relaxation sign—they become calm even when they’re not doing hypnosis. I tell them, “When you get stressed, make your relaxation sign and you’ll find yourself calming automatically.” Kids learn to regulate their emotional reactions very quickly.
FL: Would this idea transfer to working with kids who are afraid of needles?
RA: Absolutely. When you work with a child you want to find out what their issue is. Kids sometimes don’t like foreign things in their bodies, and some are afraid of blood. Some kids don’t like to be held down. You don’t hold them down and the problem is solved. In the case of pain, which is the most common issue around needle fear, besides [teaching them] how to relax, you can teach them how to use imagery to decrease their perception of discomfort. Some of the most gifted kids can imagine rubbing numbing medicine where the needle will be, or they can imagine a dial that controls pain perception, that they turn up and down. So you teach them imagery to deal with the discomfort and they aren’t as afraid, or they aren’t afraid at all.
Dr. Anbar works online and in-person. Learn more at centerpointmedicine.com.