Health & Safety
Tips for Parents on How to Help Their Children Manage Anxiety
Guest Post by Noah Smith
Parents don’t want to see their children suffer or be unhappy. Stepping in to help your child is often a natural reaction. However, if your child suffers from anxiety, removing or avoiding stressors for your child may do more harm than good. Instead, you can best support your child by helping her learn to recognize and manage the anxiety. The goal is never to eliminate anxiety. That’s impossible.
“We need to make peace with them and, by doing so, take away their power,” says Psychology Today.
Red Flags of Anxiety
Children and adolescents with anxiety have common red flags. Their feelings of distress often quickly escalate in stressful situations, and the symptoms of distress are out of proportion to the situation. Symptoms include crying, sadness, anger, frustration, embarrassment, or hopelessness. She may exhibit high standards and struggle with perfectionism and self-criticism, causing her to feel like nothing she does is good enough. She may also excessively seek to be people pleasing and be constantly concerned that others are upset with her.
Your child may experience sleep issues and recurrent headaches and stomachaches and may frequently miss school due to illness. Avoidance of errands, vacations, family gatherings, and activities with friends are also common. You may spend excessive time consoling your child about her distress in ordinary situations and coaxing your child into completing normal activities, such as meals, hygiene, and homework.
How to Support Your Child With Anxiety
Don’t avoid activities or places that make your child anxious. Although this may help in the short term, it reinforces the anxiety in the long term. Instead, respect her feelings of anxiety without empowering or belittling them. Say something like, “I know you’re scared, and that’s okay. I’m going to help you get through this.” Remember to express realistic and positive expectations. You can’t promise a child that her fears won’t happen, but you can assure her that she’ll be able to manage it and that facing the fear helps the anxiety level decrease over time.
Don’t ask leading questions, such as “Are you nervous about the big test?” Instead, ask, “How are you feeling about the test?” Also, be weary of your tone or body language so that you don’t make your child feel like she should be worried. If she’s worried, talk her through it. What would happen if the fear came true? How would she handle it? “For some kids, having a plan can reduce the uncertainty in a healthy, effective way,” says Child Mind Institute.
The build up or anticipation of something is often the hardest part of doing it. As such, if a child is feeling anxious about something, like going to the doctor, don’t start a discussion about it two hours beforehand. Also, be aware of the importance of demonstrating healthy ways to handle anxiety. Don’t pretend that you don’t have stress and anxiety. Instead, show your child that you can tolerate it, deal with it calmly, and feel good about getting through it.
Getting Support from Others
Children with anxiety need guidance and understanding from the adults in their lives. Work with the school to find a solution for any issues resulting from her anxiety. Request an evaluation to determine whether your child qualifies for special education services. Your child and your family can benefit from counseling and support groups. While your child can learn coping mechanisms, other family members can learn better ways to handle disruptive behaviors and encourage behavior changes.
Friendships are an important part of childhood, and most children form at least one or two friendships over their lifetime. However, some anxious children have difficulty interacting with peers and being in social situations. While they may want to be accepted, anxiety can be a barrier, and as such, they may need help fostering and maintaining friendships. A therapy animal, especially a dog, is a great way to help children with anxiety. Dogs and other animals provide comfort, companionship, and a sense of purpose for their owners.
Whether your child is just starting to show symptoms or has already been diagnosed with anxiety, the first way to help is to learn as much as possible about anxiety. You can then work on helping your child manage her anxiety. By supporting your child and helping her learn coping skills, she can learn to face her fears and ultimately gain confidence to not let anxiety control her life.
About the Author, Noah Smith
Mr. Smith tries to take one big trip each year. He’s currently saving up to backpack through Europe.