If our children are experiencing anxiety, beginning to panic, or feeling so sick they refuse school or activities, we want to help them. How can we help children who are so anxious that all they can think about is the stressor provoking their anxiety?
A specific diagnosis of anxiety needs to be made by a medical doctor or a licensed mental health professional such as a counselor or psychologist. However, parents and other caregivers can watch out for several warning signs of anxiety in their children.
Signs of anxiety in children may include:
- sudden unrealistic worry about everyday events
- severe self-conscious behavior
- constant need for reassurance
- physical discomfort with no medical explanation
- insomnia and trouble falling asleep
- sudden and extreme fear of a situation or object
- unexplained bouts of sweating and dizziness
- overly repetitive behaviors
- overreaction to physical contact
Get your child involved in a conversation with you. Ask them what they are thinking about, and then let them talk. Attentive silence on your side of the conversation can encourage your child fill the conversation. Let them vent their concerns and worries. This validates that what they are saying is important to you. When they seem to run out of steam or start to repeat themselves, gently ask them for ideas about how to deal with the problem that is making them scared. Work with them to create a solution.
Utilize environmental treatments. These can include minor lifestyle changes, such as cutting out caffeine or reducing the amount of sugar your child consumes. Start or maintain good sleep habits with going to sleep and waking at the same time each day. Help calm your child through any nightmares or bad dreams he or she may have.
Recognize positive traits. Help children come up with positive self-statements they can learn and repeat to themselves when they get nervous—such as “I am smart and strong” or “I can do this.” Empower them to decrease their anxiety by helping them create a motto or saying that is easy to remember. When you see your youngster getting nervous, upset, or worried, repeat the statement and remind your child how courageous, brave, and strong he or she is for tackling a scary situation.
Distract your child from the stressful event. Distraction can help the child to think about something else and stop worrying about problems that are causing anxiety. Get into a great conversation about something distracting with your child. You can start with a question such as, “Would you rather eat banana peels or boiled carrots?” This can spark a lively and interesting conversation. Then, you might try asking probing questions to get your child to think deeper about each response. After the tension eases, talk briefly about how his or her worries went away during the distraction.
Get up and get moving. Physically moving can be a helpful way to engage in distraction and to create positive feelings. Help your youngster engage in play. Often, children who are interested in their play will focus solely on the activity to the exclusion of other intrusive thoughts. Keep a few easy, quick, and entertaining activities nearby when you know or anticipate problems with nervousness.
Children can learn to overcome their anxious fears and—with support and guidance—they can be successful. Remember that talking about the problem can be empowering, removing stressors from the environment can reduce tension, better sleep and diet may help create change in anxious responses, positive self-statements can help them face their fears, and then distraction and play can help them to cope with their apprehension.
If you are concerned that your child has problems with anxiety, please seek out a knowledgeable pediatrician or counselor for help.
© Copyright 2011 by Jeffrey Gallup. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.