10 Ways to Help Your Child Manage His or Her Anxiety
Growing up can be scary. From the time they are little, our children have to face situations they feel they aren’t prepared for: parents leave for work or for the evening, young children head off for the first day of school or want to having to approach a classmate and make a new friend. They are expected to raise their hand to answer a question in class, take a test or make a presentation. While most children handle all of these tasks with a bit of nervousness or apprehension, they still forge ahead and get through. But for children with an anxiety disorder, may worry endlessly or be filled with such dread that they feel sick or begin to avoid situations. When symptoms of anxiety interfere with a child’s ability to function throughout the day, it is probably time to seek help from a medical professional.
There are also things a parent can do to help their child learn to manage their anxiety.
Keep days structured but not inflexible. Children feel safe when they know what to expect and what is expected of them. Keep the routines in your home fairly predictable but also allow for some flexibility so your children learn to adapt and adjust to change. When change in a routine is necessary, make sure to explain ahead of time what the change is and give them time to adjust.
Encourage your child to talk about his or her fears. Your children will feel safer knowing that you are there to listen without judging them. Ask questions to find out what is scaring your child so you can work on finding strategies to overcome the fears. Never dismiss the fears or tell them to not worry, instead acknowledge their fears and provide information (appropriate to their age) to help them understand what is going on and why they are safe.
Talk about situations ahead of time. If your child has social anxiety and will be going to a birthday party, talk about it before going out the door and provide him or her with some reassuring information, such as what children he or she already knows. You can role-play different situations so they don’t seem so new and frightening.
Help your child find ways to relax. This might be listening to music, drawing, reading or finding other ways to help relax. Talk about what types of activities he or she can do when feeling anxious about an upcoming event.
Review your and your child’s lifestyle. Look for ways to simplify life, for example, can you cut back on the number of activities your child participates in each week? Can you set aside one night a week for movie or game night? Sometimes the pressure of school and activities are too much and a slower pace of life may help lessen the anxiety.
Talk about expectations. Many times children perceive parent’s and teacher’s expectations as much harsher than they really are. Your child may be setting unreasonable expectations and expecting perfection. Let your child know that effort counts more than results and that you will still love them, no matter what.
Learn about anxiety disorders in children. Understand the signs of anxiety and how it can impact a child’s life. Be aware of how your child exhibits symptoms, for example some children may become whiny and clingy, others may withdraw. The more you understand about anxiety disorders, the better you can support and encourage your child.
Be sure your child is getting plenty of sleep and eating right. Anxiety symptoms can increase when your child is tired or hungry. Set up soothing bedtime routines to help your child get to sleep and have healthy meals and snacks.
Add exercise to your child’s daily routine. Regular exercise has been shown to decrease symptoms of anxiety. Make sure your child is going outside to play or, on days he cannot, use indoor exercise, such as the exercise games on popular video games.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If your child is having trouble in school, talk with her teachers and guidance counselor. Make an appointment with your pediatrician. Seek out the help you need to help your child live a happy life.
Depending on your child’s age, you want to encourage behaviors to help them manage their own anxiety symptoms so they can feel more in control when you aren’t around. Work together with your child to come up with strategies, such as deep breathing, that they can use no matter where they are - at home, at school or at a friend’s house. And always, always let your child know that you love him or her no matter what.
“Anxiety,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, KidsHelpline, a division of Boys Town
“Helping Your Child Manage Anxiety,” Date Unknown, Susan Fell, LMSW, The Family Center
“Tips to Help Your Child Manage Anxiety,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Erikson Center for Children and Families