Helping Your Anxious Child
By Stephanie Hewitt, Learning Pathways
Featured in Macaroni Kid Folsom-El Dorado Hills, April 23, 2020 Issue
Anxiety is a reaction to stressful situations. When facing real or imagined threats, the body goes into “flight, fight, or freeze” mode. Common symptoms of anxiety include a racing heart, rapid breathing, sweating, and tense muscles. In children, anxiety might also look like extra clinginess, irritability, increased crying or tantrums, poor sleep quality, and physical symptoms such as stomachaches or headaches. As a parent, it can be hard to know how to best support your anxious child. Here are some things you can do:
Listen and validate. Avoid trying to reason because brains in “fight, flight, or freeze” mode are not available for being rational and reasoning. Do not brush off their fears or tell them not to worry. Anxiety is about the person’s perception and what may seem like no big deal to one person can be another person’s greatest fear. On the other extreme, don’t enable and reinforce children’s fears by rescuing them or letting them get out of situations that make them anxious. Instead, find a middle ground by patiently listening, validating that they feel anxious or fearful, but they can handle this and you are there for them.
Monitor your own reactions and model coping strategies. One of the biggest ways children learn is by watching the adults around them. If your children see you easily anxious or panicking, they may learn to do the same. Instead, show your children that anxiety is a normal feeling that everyone experiences. Be honest with them and model appropriate strategies. For example, “I’m feeling worried about ______ right now. I’m going to take some deep breaths.”
Help them learn new coping skills. There are many wonderful children’s books that talk about anxiety and teach coping skills. Some recommendations include “What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety” by Dawn Huebner, “When My Worries Get Too Big! A Relaxation Book for Children Who Live with Anxiety” by Kari Dunn Buron, and “The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids: Help for Children to Cope with Stress, Anxiety, and Transitions” by Lawrence Shapiro. Apps are also a great resource. Suggested apps include Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame Street; Stop, Breathe, and Think Kids; and Smiling Mind. Another strategy is scheduling worry time, such as 3-3:30 pm every day. When worries come up before then, tell your child to set the worry aside for 3:00 P.M.
Get professional help. If anxiety is interfering with family’s daily life and these strategies are not helping, seek the help of a therapist or psychologist. You can also mention your concerns to your child’s pediatrician.
Coltrera, Francesca. (2018, August 14). “Anxiety in Children.” Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/anxiety-in-children-2018081414532
Pratt, Kim. (2014, May 11). “Psychology Tools: Schedule Worry Time.” Healthy Psych. https://healthypsych.com/psychology-tools-schedule-worry-time/
WebMD. (2016, February 29). “10 Tips for Parenting Anxious Children.” https://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/10-tips-parenting-anxious-children