Learning How To Deal With Anxiety In Children
As a parent, you want to shield your child from any pain. But that can be so hard when you have an anxious child. When every little thing causes them to worry. Things that don’t seem remotely scary to most kids, will terrify an anxious child. They will genuinely fret about these things, causing a real nervous system response. Anxiety in children is a very real thing and you may find this information helpful if you have a particularly anxious child.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural response to a threatening, dangerous, potentially embarrassing, or stressful situation. It helps us prepare for managing the situation and is felt by adults and children, females and males alike.
There is no one thing that causes anxiety. Temperament, learned behaviour, genetics and past experiences all can play a part in anxious behaviour. It exhibits through physical feelings, thoughts and behaviour.
Anxiety can affect the way that children think. They begin to think that the danger or situation they are in is worse than it actually is. Thinking about it makes them more worried and tense.
How To Know If You Have An Anxious Child
Does your child worry about everything, more so than their peers? Do they constantly complain of a sore tummy when they are going into an uncertain situation? Do their worries stop them from participating in school or social activities?
Chances are you have a child that is anxious. Like anything, anxiety varies in severity. Right from hesitation at new experiences, through to a full-blown anxiety disorder. Hopefully this information will help manage all levels of anxiety in children.
Anxiety In Children: Things To Consider
Anxiety Can Be a Learned Behaviour
A parent is a child’s first teacher, and remains a strong influential part throughout their entire life. For this reason, your child is very in tune with your behaviour. Anxiety can run in families. If your child sees you anxious all the time, then they learn that they need to worry about a lot of things too. Be very conscious of your own anxieties.
Reassurance Is Not The Way
If your child is scared, your natural response is to reassure them. However, if you continue to reassure them every time they are anxious, then they will seek that reassurance every time. Instead, praise them when the anxious behaviour has stopped. That removes the focus from the anxiety itself and puts it on the conquering part of the equation.
Explain That Worrying Is Good
If your child is anxious, then they will have enough to worry about without thinking there is something wrong with them as well. Teach them that worrying does have a purpose, that worry is a protection mechanism we have had since the times when we were hunted by predators.
Worry is designed to help us survive danger. Assure them that everyone worries and that it is completely normal. Explain that sometimes our system sends off false alarms of anxiety, but that they can be managed with some simple techniques.
You might even have a specified time that allows them to worry. Set aside 15 minutes at the end of the day as ‘worry time’ where they can get all of their worries out on paper, or by telling you. During this time you can open the worry box (have a physical box if this helps), then when the time is up, put the lid on the worry box and lock the worries away for the day.
Rationalise The Worry Away
When anxiety gets hold it can be hard for your child to remember how to complete everyday tasks. So, follow this three step method to calm them and allow them to think rationally.
You can even form this three step process into a checklist for them to follow when they are by themselves. What should they do if they feel anxiety coming on? First step breathe, then evaluate. This should help them calm down enough to be rational with their thinking even if you aren't there.
Don't Avoid Anxious Situations
It is natural to want to keep your child from being scared, but if you avoid every anxiety causing situation, then you aren't equipping your child with the tools to handle them. They will never learn how to do this unless they are put in the situation, and it will make it far easier to cope with your support.
A good way of doing this is working towards the end goal with small steps. For example, if your child is afraid of big crowds of people, then you aren't going to take them to take them to a Taylor Swift concert! But you can gradually work up to concert status by inviting a group of people to your home, then meet them outside the house at a familiar location, then in a more crowded area. It will take many times practising before your child is comfortable, even if you do work up to it.
It can be challenging to help your child deal with their anxiety. Remember that you did not cause it, but you can help them to manage it. Compassion, empathy and support are the way forward.