This is a follow-up to our first post on childhood anxiety: Signs Your Child Might Be Anxious, written by a adolescent-focused mental health counselor.
There are several ways you can support your child and help reduce their symptoms of anxiety. The best way for your child to build coping skills is by empathetically supporting them through the anxiety provoking experiences.
It’s easy to think that the problem could be solved by avoid the thing that makes your child anxious, however the goal is never to eliminate these situations from the child’s life, but rather to help them manage through it.
Helping children avoid is a short-term fix, but it teaches their brain that avoiding keeps them safe. The most well-intentioned parents may try to protect their children by removing them from upsetting situations, but this creates a negative cycle of using avoidance as a coping mechanism. Avoiding triggering fears only make them more unknown and powerful. Repeated contact with the stressor actually reduces its effect and over time the anxiety will decrease.
Encourage your child to tolerate their anxiety and recognize when they are doing so by praising their efforts. It is important to know when and how much to push, based on your child’s personality. They have to feel that you are empathetic and supportive not that you are throwing them into the deep end without a float.
ALLOW THEM TO FAIL & BE OK:
For kids that struggle with perfectionism, the key is to provide opportunities for them to fail or stumble and still be okay. When they don’t do as well as they expected in school, make it about the learning experience rather than focusing on the negative.
Also, children are extremely perceptive so be cognizant of how you deal with your own failures. By being able to accept and laugh off your own mistakes/failures/embarrassment, you are modeling healthy ways of managing anxiety.
DO BREATHING & RELAXATION EXERCISES:
There is tons of research on the effectiveness of mindfulness. This can be helpful when they feel their thoughts are racing or if anxiety keeps them up at night as it gives them something to focus on other than their anxious thoughts.
Something as simple as taking a few deep breaths can work wonders. There are so many apps that you can download that are kid-friendly and walk you through short meditations or breathing exercises. Starting and ending the day with a 3 or 5 minute session can do so much to get your child in the right frame of mind.
BE REALISTIC REGARDING THEIR FEARS, BUT DON’T EMPOWER THEM:
While you can’t promise your child that they’ll never fail a test or that another child won’t laugh at them, you can be confidence that they will be able to manage it, and that their anxiety will decrease over time.
Validate their feelings, but don’t amplify them, or disregard them.
DON’T REINFORCE THE CHILD’S FEARS:
You don’t want to give off the message that they should be afraid. For example, if your child previously had a negative experience with a dog, the next time they are around a dog, you might be visibly tense and anxious about how they will respond, unintentionally sending a message that they should be worried or that it is a scary situation.
KEEP THE ANTICIPATORY PERIOD AS SHORT AS POSSIBLE:
When we’re afraid of something, the hardest time is really before we do it, so shortening the buildup will reduce the amount of anxiety they feel. So if your child is worried about a doctor’s appointment, don’t start talking about it from the day before.
TALK IT THROUGH:
It often helps to talk through the “worst case scenario,” if a child’s fear came true and how would they handle it. A child with separation anxiety might worry about if their parents didn’t come to pick them up. Talk about if that happened and create a plan, they could go to the office, ask a teacher to call mom or wait with them.
Get them to reflect on what has happened in similar situations in the past and how they got through it. By practicing the things that make us nervous, we increase your ability to handle them.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO SEEK HELP:
One of the most important steps in recognizing your child’s difficulties is also recognizing your ability to help them and accepting at times that you may need support.
Having a child with anxiety can be emotionally draining for any parent. If you feel that your child is facing anxiety severe enough or often enough that it interferes with their daily life (and yours) and prevents them from doing certain things, it might be time to seek professional help.
Andrea Chamely is a Mental Health Counselor and certified School Counselor working in private practice with children and adolescents. For more information you can contact her office, Theraplay at 2213866 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org