Helping Your Child Cope with Anxiety
Anxiety is a part of growing up. All children experience anxiety to different degrees at some point during their childhood. But for many, it can take a toll on school, friendships, and home life. Not to mention, COVID-19 has only exasperated the symptoms of anxiety in children, regardless of their previous experience with anxiety. Many children will need extra support during this challenging time.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the mind and body's reaction to a stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations. It's the sense of uneasiness, distress, or dread you feel before a significant event. In addition, anxiety usually includes feelings of apprehension, uncertainty and/or fear, as well as negative thinking. For children it may be the feeling they experience before a test, giving a presentation in class, starting a new school, or having their first overnight trip away from mom and dad. These types of anxieties are completely normal for children. As children work through the the "newness" of a situation, learn new things and practice coping strategies, their anxieties will lessen.
While anxiety is something that most people would like to avoid experiencing because of how uncomfortable it can make you feel, it is important to teach children that an optimal level of anxiety can actually be helpful.
Helps children navigate dangerous situations (running away from a viscous dog)
Compels children to step in or stand up to uncomfortable situations (example: a child becomes anxious when a friend is being teased and decides to stand up for her friend or get help)
Motivates children to work hard or do a better job (example: preparing for a test)
Directs children to whatever needs their attention (example: taking action toward a situation that they care about)
By helping your child understand the benefits of anxiety, they are less likely to fear their own anxiety and avoid uncomfortable situations.
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
When deciding whether your child's anxiety should raise concern, experts say to look at three things: duration, avoidance, and level of distress. Anxiety disorders are among the most common treatable mental health conditions in children and youth. According to the ADAA, approximately 1 in 8 children are affected by a diagnosed anxiety disorder. The most common childhood anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, social anxiety, and specific phobias. Although anxiety disorders manifest in different ways, here are the most common symptoms:
Avoidance of specific activities, situations or people
A tendency to worry about what can go wrong in any scenario
Worries or fears that interfere with normal daily activities
Persistent distress despite an adult's reassurances
Trouble sleeping at night or insisting on sleeping with parents
Physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomach pain, that don't stem from other medical conditions.
It is recommended that you seek guidance from a mental health professional if your child exhibits these symptoms. Most children that do have an anxiety disorder can outgrow it when living in a supportive living environment and with treatment.
Supporting Your Anxious Child
Encourage your child to express their feelings but avoid asking leading questions (example: Are you nervous about the upcoming science test?)
Validate your child's anxious feelings, but avoid making them bigger than they are.
Reward your child’s courageous behavior (avoid punishing for mistakes or lack of progress)
Avoid giving into your child’s fears (Don’t give into attempts of avoiding things they should be doing like activities or going to school)
Teach your child to cope, communicate, and problem solve
Control your own anxiety-especially when your child is in anxious situation.
Check out this article for Child Mind Institute that includes additional ways to support and respond to your child's anxiety.
Talk to Your Child About Anxiety
Step #1: Encourage your child to open up about their worries and fears
Step #2: Teach your child about what anxiety is. Here are two helpful videos that you watch with your child.
WStep #3: Teach your child the connection between thoughts-feelings-behaviors as it relates to anxiety. How we think determines how we feel, which in turn determines how we behave or respond to a situation. Here is a video that helps explains this concept to kids. W
Step #4: Teach your child to recognize their warning signs for anxiety. This is can be done by having your child draw an outline of their body and color the different parts of their body where they feel anxiety (example: heart racing, lump in through, feel like crying, clenched fists, tummy ache)
Teach Your Child Calming Strategies for Managing Anxiety
While not every intervention works with every child, here are some suggestions on things you can try to help your child better manage their anxiety. Just click on the links to learn more.
Create a calming box
Allow for Worry Time
Check out Coping Skills for Kids for even more helpful strategies to help ease your child's anxiety.
I absolutely love using books to help kids better understand anxiety and learn ways to manage it. Here are several of my favorites:
My favorite Parenting Books
Parenting an anxious child can be hard. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions or need additional support.