Did you know that anxiety worsens if nothing is done to help kids learn to manage anxious feelings appropriately? The good news is that few kids are born with an anxious disposition and cases of chronic anxiety in kids are rare.
What this means is that you can teach your anxious kid to better manage his or her feelings. Here are a few tips to help:
1 | It is okay to be anxious
Kids are rarely able to define their big emotions, especially if they have not yet learned to tell the difference between emotions. If your child has an anxious disposition, she is likely to struggle to communicate this anxiety. You could have a difficult time identifying your kid’s anxiety because it can be manifested in so many different ways.
An anxious child might cry each and every time she has to go to school or just before her swimming lessons, or she might act clingy and never wants you out of sight. Anxiety, however, can also transform into pain and physical symptoms (headaches, tummy aches, vomiting spells), into moods swings and tantrums, or into inappropriate behavior such as violence and aggressiveness.
The first step to help your child manage anxiety is to teach him to identify and manage his emotions using age-appropriate techniques. Let your child know that it is okay to be anxious. Talking about anxiety and anxiety-provoking situations can be therapeutic for your child.
2 | Create an anxiety toolkit
Your kid will be better able to apply appropriate strategies to deal with anxiety if he has learned to identify what triggers his feelings of anxiety. Providing an anxiety toolkit can help teach him to deal with anxiety.
Sensory activities, visually calming activities, and activities that help your child release tension (trampoline) or focus his attention elsewhere (mandala) may all be effective in helping him calm down. The key takeaway is letting him know that anxiety is a normal and manageable emotion.
3 | Neither over-protect nor under-protect
Just like pushing your child to get over her anxiety does not help him overcome it, protecting her from anxiety provoking situations does her little good. Overprotection can actually make things worse. Rather than shield your child from anxiety, take very small incremental steps to help her face what triggers it.
You can gently nudge your child out of her comfort zone by talking about anxiety-provoking situations, going over worst-case scenarios, and brainstorming appropriate reactions to these scenarios: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” “What do you think would happen if…?” “What can you do if…?”
But you need to tread carefully when nudging kids out of their comfort zones. You do not help your anxious and clingy child by leaving her alone at a party. You reassure her by gradually reducing the time you spend with her during her social events.
4 | Manage your own anxiety
Evidence suggests that anxiety-prone parents are more likely to raise children with anxiety-related disorders. The biggest problem parents with an anxious disposition face is the employment of ineffective strategies in an attempt to shield their child from anxiety. Addressing your childhood trauma, dealing with your fears, and knowing when to walk away will help you be a better coach to your child.
Remember, your child will interpret situations depending on how he sees you interpret those situations. Choosing to be more optimistic about how you perceive everyday life events and not presenting situations as dangerous or irresolvable will help lessen his anxiety.
5 | Get help
Child anxiety, unfortunately, can point to more serious issues. It is time to seek professional help if:
• Your child’s anxiety causes him or her considerable distress
• Your child is withdrawn and difficult to be around
• Your child’s anxiety prevents him or her from participating in school-related or social events
• Your child also displays many behavioral problems
• Your child avoids eye contact, even with family members
• You are overwhelmed and feel unable to help your child
Multiple resources have been designed for parents to help children deal with anxiety-related issues. In most cases, children can respond to their anxiety in appropriate ways, but only if they are taught how using effective, age-appropriate strategies.
If you’re looking for practical and simple tools to help your child learn to manage difficult emotions such as anger and anxiety, check out my kit here.
This post was initially published on parent.co