All kids feel anxious sometimes. Anxiety can be a good thing. It makes your child think twice about running into oncoming traffic or jumping off a cliff. Anxiety helps keep your child safe.
However, there’s a good chance that they’ll experience unnecessary anxiety at one time or another. They might worry about unrealistic things, or maybe anxiety will keep them from doing things that would be good for them. How you respond to your child’s anxiety will make a significant impact on how they learn to cope with anxious feelings.
Here are nine ways to help your anxious child learn to deal with his anxiety.
1. Validate Your Child’s Feelings
When children say they’re worried about something, the typical response is to say things like, “Oh, it’s not a big deal,” or “Don’t worry about it. You’ll be fine.” However, those types of responses make your children think that their feelings are wrong.
You could validate your child’s feelings by saying things like, “It sounds like you’re feeling nervous right now,” or “I’d be a little anxious too if I had to get up in front a big crowd.” Then, let him know that you’re confident that they can succeed despite the nerves by saying something like, “It’s tough to do scary things like this, but I am confident you can do it.”
Whatever words you choose, make sure that you’re letting him know that it’s okay to be anxious and that he can choose to be brave.
2. Identify Real from False Alarms
Talk to your child about how anxiety can help him stay safe. Like if a lion were chasing him, his brain would tell his body that he’s in danger. He might get sweaty palms, faster heartbeat, and a rush of energy as he prepares to take action.
Some instances like going to basketball tryouts, being in the spelling bee, and failing a test might evoke the same anxiety response, so help your child to identify between a life and death situation and a false alarm.
If it’s a real alarm, tell him to listen to those alarm bells and make sure to keep himself safe. But if it’s a false alarm, it’s the best opportunity to face his fears.
When he’s feeling anxious, ask them to evaluate if it’s a false alarm or a real one, then assist him in deciding what action to take.
3. Collect Evidence Together
When your child tells you that he’s afraid about certain things that have not happened yet, help him gather the evidence.
Explain that their thoughts aren’t always real and help them gather clues to assess the evidence behind his anxious thoughts.
For example, if they say they’re going to fail a math test, ask them if they have evidence to prove that it’s really going to happen. List down all the evidence and then review it together. Show your child that his anxious thoughts aren’t predetermined to happen.
Teach your child to gather the evidence on their own so that they can do so even when you’re not there to help them. Going over a written list of the evidence that supports and refutes anxious thoughts can change thinking and reduce anxiety.
4.Train Your Child to Do Self-Talk
Aside from reassuring an anxious child, it’s also necessary to teach them to encourage themselves. When they’re anxious about messing up, don’t rush to reassure them. Instead, ask them what they’d tell their friends who are feeling the same anxiety, to which your child might respond with “I’d tell her she is going to do a good job.”
When he gives a kind response, encourage him to do the same thing to himself. The goal is to teach him how to treat himself with kindness and compassion with healthier self-talk so he can reassure himself even when you’re not there by his side.
5. Find Ways to Calm the Body
Teach your child how to calm his body when he experiences the physical symptoms of anxiety. An excellent and easy way to calm the body is by taking slow, deep breaths a couple of times.
6. Help Your Child to Gradually Face His Fears
Facing fears helps in resolving anxiety in the long-term, but it’s essential to move slowly through it. Don’t force your child to do something too scary because they may only grow more fearful.
You should work with your child in deciding what baby steps to take toward facing their fears. Your goal should be for them to do something moderately scary and to keep doing it until it doesn’t feel scary anymore. Then you can move on to the next steps.
7. Seek Professional Help
If your child’s anxiety lasts more than a few weeks, or if it’s interfering with his everyday functions, it’s time to talk to a pediatrician. For example, if your child’s anxiety is affecting their grades in school or their social interaction, your child may need help from a professional.
It’s common for children to have anxiety disorders. In the United States, an estimated 1 in 4 children has an anxiety disorder.
These disorders are easy to treat, but they often go unrecognized and undiagnosed. So, if you think your child is suffering an anxiety disorder, talk to the pediatrician, who may refer your child to a mental health professional.
Treating anxiety usually includes talk therapy. A mental health professional can support your child in learning skills that will help him cope with his anxiety and build confidence to handle some of his fears. The therapist will likely want you engaged in the treatment so you can also learn how to assist your child at home. It will help you to learn specific strategies to coach your child when they’re feeling anxious, or you may learn how to help them healthily face some of their fears.
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