How to help children deal with anxiety
Just as adult’s do, children experience anxiety in different situations and to different degrees.
As children get older, they become more susceptible to anxiety because they can better understand the world around them and the expectations placed on them.
Anxiety can come in form of separation, social, or simply generalised anxiety as children worry about likes of homework, school, their performance, safety, money and/or world events.
How do I know my child is anxious?
Some signs of anxiety can be very obvious like visible fear of unfamiliar or new situations, but others are more subtle.
Some examples may include:
Desire to do things perfectly and be perfect
Withdrawing and not asking questions or being afraid to answer
Asking a lot of question that start with “What if…?”, “What will happen …?”
Struggling to perform well at school
Seeking a lot of reassurance
Saying they feel sick a lot when worried
Experiencing stomach aches, headaches, tiredness
Working extremely hard in certain situations
Daydreaming a lot and experiencing inattention
Struggling to go to sleep at night if worried about the next day
Overuse of lucky charms and special objects to keep them ‘safe’
How do I help my child deal with anxiety?
Anxiety tells us that the child is finding himself stuck in a bad place, wants to get to a better place but hasn’t been successful so far. The good news is that children want to feel better so we just need to give them the right tools to get themselves unstuck.
Here is what you can do to help your child work through anxiety:
Acknowledge what your child is struggling with but don’t criticise them for worrying and being anxious.
Don’t ask leading questions like “Are you feeling anxious about…?”. Instead ask open ended questions “How do you feel about…?” to encourage talking about their feelings.
Don’t label your child as ‘anxious’ or ‘shy’.
Don’t shelter your child from stressful situations but instead give them the tools to work through it and improve by teaching to do things differently. Provide new steps/strategies that haven’t been tried before to work through a stressful situation. This will give new hope. Ensure to praise with each new accomplishment, no matter how small it is.
Try applying the stepladder approach by starting with a situation that causes the least anxiety and exposing your child to it. Repeat a few times if necessary. Praise for the positive result and move onto the next, more difficult step. As the child successfully navigates through each step, keep moving onto the next until he/she is capable to handle the most difficult situation. Remember to praise all along the way and to discuss each step; how it went, how the child felt and what the child has learned and could do next time.
Think stressful situations through with your child. Ask them what could they do if things that make them anxious were about to happen? What could be the plan? What would be their options? What is the worst that could happen? This will give them a plan of action, alleviate their worries, encourage to rely on own judgement and problem solve and will show that the worst-case scenario is actually not that disastrous after all.
Lead by example. Are you a little bit or lot on the anxious side? Do you tend to have a chat with friends complaining about life’s challenges often? Do you find life difficult for most part and struggle to find joy and pleasure in daily life? Children are like sponges. They feel and see everything we do and project and unfortunately set out to copy us. What are you teaching your child or reinforcing through your energy, words, and actions?
Get to know your child and who they really are. Put aside any ideas of what they should be like but really focus on their energy, likes and dislikes. Encourage them to express, show themselves and to be comfortable being themselves. This will go a long way to building self-confidence and reducing anxiety in the long run.
Tell your child that it is okay to make mistakes as long as they learn from them. This will not only instil confidence but will also reduce anxiety and make them more adventurous.
Share with your child stories from your life when you have made mistakes but managed to learn. Explain how it helped you in the long run. Include stories about how you were able to work through stressful situations and your anxiety.
Don’t be unrealistic about expectations or outcomes. Its important to remain positive but realistic when discussing fears of the child. For example, if the child is anxious about failing a test or being rejected by a friend, don’t promise them that it will not happen. Instead explain that in the event of the negative outcome they will be okay, every situation is an opportunity to learn something new about oneself or others, and try to do things differently next time. Emphasise that they can cope with whatever life presents them with.
Lastly, if you are concerned that anxiety is seriously affecting your child’s enjoyment of life, consider seeking professional help.
I hope that you found my article helpful and if you need help with anxiety or any other challenge you may be facing, feel free to reach out to me here. I would be delighted to help!