If you have a child who struggles with anxiety, it can be challenging to know how to best help them to cope and recover from it. Children may become clingy or defiant, reclusive, tired from lack of sleep, or tearful. As a parent, it can be both heartbreaking and frustrating to see them struggle. So, what are the best ways you can offer help? Here are a few of the recommendations we make to parents struggling with this issue:
Listen without judgment. You may feel that their anxiety is irrational, but one of the things they need the most is to be able to express their worries without judgment. Empathizing by expressing to them that you are there for them and they can talk to you about their worries can be extremely comforting for them. This does not mean you need to agree with their worry or that you need to validate their worry. But when simply listening, you are creating safety and security by reassuring them that you are there to help.
Don’t try to rationalize their fears. Anxiety is not based in rationale. It is the body’s response to a threat cue that is telling the child to be on the lookout for danger. As a matter of fact, your child may already know that it isn’t rational, but may still feel the worry or anxiety, which adds to their feelings of anxiety!
Be realistic and don’t promise your child that bad things won’t happen. Instead, help your child feel confident that whatever their fear is, they will be okay. Helping your child to develop confidence will instill longer lasting results as they work through their current anxieties knowing that when other challenging situations arise, they can handle them.
Practice body oriented coping mechanisms with them such as deep breathing techniques or stretching. Helping them to have some easy strategies to help relax the body give them a sense of being empowered to have the means to reduce the anxiety when it arises. I teach kids to inhale to the count of three, hold to the count of three, exhale to the count of three and hold to the count of three. It requires thought at the same time as fostering relaxation.
Give praise to your child when they confront their fear or use their coping skills. Adding that positive reinforcement and acknowledgement will increase the likelihood that they will use those same skills again. It will also foster their self-awareness of their bravery and capability.
Explore the root of the problem , but only when they are not in a state of anxiety or worry. Even if you are unable to determine the cause of the anxiety, strategies for fixing the problem will be best addressed when they feel calm.
Remember that if you, as the parent, are anxious, it will add to your child’s anxiety. Try to be calm, and know that you will be able to help your child work through this. For tips on managing your own stress, take a look at this article on handling stress If the anxiety doesn’t clear up, then seeking the help of a licensed mental health provider can provide both you and your child the necessary tools to feel better.
Anxiety doesn’t have to get the best of you , your child or your family. Here are just a few of the many resources that can help:
www.greenwoodcounselingcenter.com (Our website)
www.childanxiety.net(Child Anxiety Network)
www.adaa.org(Anxiety Disorders Association of America)
Some good books for kids about anxiety:
Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress. (2016). Grossman, Laurie.
What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety.(2005). Huebner, D. and Matthews, B.