Everyone has anxiety from time to time. It’s a natural response the body has when faced with situations that appear dangerous, uncertain or stressful. However, for people with anxiety disorders, these feelings don’t go away when the situation changes or they feel anxious even when there is no apparent reason.
Anxiety disorders affect children as well as adults and it can greatly interfere with your normal way of life. The worry and fear that stems from anxiety can make it difficult for your child to stay focused, participate in regular activities or form friendships with other kids.
It’s difficult for children to understand what is happening and why they feel the way they do, which creates even more anxiety. As the symptoms worsen, it begins to interfere with their sleep, eating habits and many kids become withdrawn and don’t want to socialize with anyone. They may even begin to have panic attacks as the fear and anxiety escalate.
As a parent, you want to ease these feelings and help your child learn to relax but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Saying there is nothing to worry about or telling your child to relax and everything will be fine doesn’t work and here’s why.
During an anxiety attack, rationality seems to fade away as feelings of fear and dread fill their minds. Emotions take control and the child may not even hear you or understand what you’re saying because these strong feelings are blocking you out. So what can do? Here are five ways to help your child deal with anxiety.
One: Search for the Root of the Problem
Anxiety disorders are different for everyone, even siblings. One child may have social anxiety and another may suffer from OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) or some other type of anxiety. All types will make you feel worried, scared, nervous and extremely anxious. For this reason, the first step will be to determine what type of anxiety your child has. Search for the root of the problem to find out what causes these feelings to surface?
When you help your child find the root of her anxiety, you’re accomplishing two things:
- It shows that you take her feelings seriously and it gives her someone to talk to openly about how she feels. It’s reassuring to her and means a lot to have someone around that understands what she’s going through. Talking will help her keep things in perspective and make it easier for her to learn how to deal with her feelings.
- You’re pinpointing triggers. As a result, you can determine situations that may cause her anxiety and talk about it beforehand to help calm some of her fears. For example, if being in social settings makes her nervous and she has to read an essay in front of the class, you can help her prepare so it won’t be so overwhelming for her.
When talking to your kids about anxiety, explain that worrying does have its place in life but you can’t spend all of your time worrying about everything. Worry and fear help protect us from danger but when you worry about normal things that others do without even thinking, it’s unhealthy and time to look for solutions.
Two: Teach Your Child Coping Techniques for Dealing with Anxiety
You can’t eliminate anxiety from your child’s life but you can help her learn how to cope with her symptoms. For example, help her focus on the positive things in her life instead of worrying about what might happen. Positive thinking can help lift your spirits and improve your mood. Try and help your child pinpoint exactly what makes them feel anxious, if you do this, you can find ways to help them. For example, if your child gets anxious when they sleep because they think an intruder will come in, you may start looking at home security camera options. This would allow your child to see what’s going on, in and around your house.
When you allow yourself to focus on all the negative things that could happen you will naturally begin to feel worried or even a little scared. That’s why it’s so important to not allow yourself to become obsessed with these thoughts.
Deep breathing exercises are one technique that will help keep her focused on what is actually happening instead of worrying about things that are very unlikely to happen.
Three: Help Her Face Her Anxiety Instead of Running from It
No parent wants to watch their child go through the bouts of worry and fear that anxiety creates. It can be heartbreaking knowing how scared she must feel. It may even make you want to try and avoid or keep her away from triggers but that’s not a real solution.
It’s much more beneficial for you to be there with her as she goes through these things and helps her face them now, as a child. This way, you’re giving her the strength and the tools needed to face her fears head on. Learning how to deal with them now while she is young will give her a head start when she’s older and you’ll be there to help guide her along the way.
Four: Create a Quick Reference Guide for Your Child
In the midst of an anxiety attack, the person is not thinking clearly. When all of these negative feelings start pouring in your child becomes overwhelmed. It’s difficult for her to remember the coping techniques you taught her and she may not know what to do without a little guidance. You can’t be with her all the time but she can carry a short reference guide with her to refer to when she feels the anxiety building.
The guide should be simple and to the point to give your child clear instructions. An example would be to Stop, Take a Deep Breath, Evaluate and Relax. This quickly reminds your child to stop and take a minute to breathe in deeply and evaluate the situation to determine if the fear is real or the result of something you think might happen. If there is no real danger present and she is allowing her imagination to run wild, the guide reminds her to relax, everything should be fine.
Five: Be Supportive
You don’t want to encourage your child when she is anxious by exaggerating the problem and making it sound even worse, nor do you want to ignore them. What she’s feeling is real to her even if there is no present danger or logical reason to be worried. When anxiety hits, show your support. Let her know that you understand how she feels and that you’re there to help her along the way. It will help ease her mind and build up her self-esteem.
For example, if she is worried that someone will laugh at her style in clothes or the way she wears her hair, she needs to know that it’s not really that big of a deal if they do. In this case, teach her that everyone has different styles and that it’s Okay to be different. It’s a good thing really and you can teach her to proud of her choices even if someone else makes fun of them.
Joke about how she may even start a new fashion trend to lighten the mood and help her see that things don’t always go perfectly and they don’t have to. When you believe in yourself and you have people in your life that love and support you, it doesn’t really matter what others think.
It may not be easy and watching your child deal with anxiety may be one of the hardest things you ever do but it helps to know you can make a difference in her life. Be there for her, offer your support and help her get over her fears and deal with her anxiety as she grows into the person you always knew she’d become.
Can you help 6-year-old Isaiah raise money for the American Heart Association? Jump Rope for Heart