Monday, December 31, 2018

How to Help Anxious Children

When children are anxious, even the most well-meaning parents can fall into a negative cycle and, not wanting a child to suffer, actually intensify the child’s anxiety. Here are some tips for helping children escape the cycle of anxiety.

Help your child manage anxiety.
The best way to help kids overcome anxiety is to help them manage and work through the feelings. Even if the things that trigger the anxiety seem minor or silly, the feelings are real and intense for the child. Talk about the feelings and triggers, share stories of others or your own past fears and anxieties, practice some calm, deep breathing, and empathize with the worry. When the child feels understood and held, he/she feels safe and strong and is better able to work toward overcoming the anxiety.

Don’t over-react just because something make a child anxious.
It is important to respect a child's fears and worries. These feelings mean something to them. It is important to try and understand what is behind them. Sometimes, well meaning parents are quick to try making things better or immediately and repeatedly remove the anxiety producing triggers. Once they are understood, a plan can be made to help the child overcome that anxiety at a pace that allows him/her to feel in control.

Express positive realistic expectations.
You cannot promise a child that their fears are unrealistic, that they will not fail a test or that another child will not laugh at her during show & tell. However, you can express confidence that they are going to be okay and they will be able to manage it. This gives your child confidence that your expectations are realistic, and that you are not going to ask them to do something they cannot handle.

Respect their feelings.
It is important to understand that validation does not always mean agreement. You want to listen and be empathetic and help them understand what they are anxious about. The message you want to send is, “I know you’re scared, and that’s okay, and I’m here, and I’m going to help you get through this.” 

Don’t ask leading questions.
Encourage your child to talk about their feelings. To avoid feeding the cycle of anxiety, just ask open-ended questions: “How are you feeling about the science fair?” 

Don’t reinforce their fears.

What you do not want to do is be saying, with your tone of voice or body language is: “Maybe this is something that you should be afraid of.” Let’s say a child has had a negative experience with a dog. Next time they are around a dog, you might be anxious about how they will respond, and you might unintentionally send a message that they should be worried.