Helping Your Child with Anxiety

Boy with homework covering faceIf 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

As a parent, you do not want to make the situation worse. There are solutions to help children. The following ideas can be used together or separately, and with repeated practice, children can learn to decrease their anxiety on their own or with a little encouragement.

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.

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  • Kelly K

    Kelly K

    June 30th, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    There are so many things that parents can do to keep their kids from being so anxious but for the most part all I see are parents who are frustrated and do not knw how to help them. As a matter of fact most of the make it worse by constantly harping on it!
    Many children just need to feel that their concerns are being addressed and that these feelings do not have to last forever.
    I especially like the point about getting the children active. I know that this works for me when I am scared or nervous about something and I can’t help but feel like it will help children who are feeling the same way.

  • mueller

    mueller

    June 30th, 2011 at 11:25 PM

    anxiety can really pull a person down and if it’s present in a child then thats bad because the child has picked up something that most of us are affected by only in our adult life and this early onset can really pull him down and subject him to growing up and living with that anxiety-prone personality forever!

  • N.N

    N.N

    July 2nd, 2011 at 5:06 AM

    …also try to teach your kids about importance of things.this way the kid will learn that some things do not deserve the kind of anxiety they might subject themselves to for.because kids can end up taking drastic steps just because they broke the vase at home or something like that.it’s important to teach them this.

  • Doctor John

    Doctor John

    July 2nd, 2011 at 8:43 AM

    I have been practicing medicine for a long time and the one thing that I see time and again is that too many parents write off what their children are feeling and basically tell them to get over it, that it will go away.
    I think that all of us who are adults and who have experienced this same kind of anxiety know that this is not the case. Anxiety is not something that you can tell to go away and automatically it will. This is something that needs treatment, along with reassurance fro home and at school that everything is going to be ok. But children are not always as resilient as we make them out to be, and they may need some help getting through these situations. Do not ignore the symptoms as typically they will not go away- they may in fact only get worse without proper attention and care.

  • J.D. Boyd

    J.D. Boyd

    July 4th, 2011 at 12:35 AM

    When I was in school, the seriousness of everything was drummed into us repeatedly. This resulted in me absolutely hating school. I became verbally abusive towards my teachers because I was so stressed out with all the sudden expectations thrown onto me, all at the tender age of five. As it turned out I was dyslexic which didn’t help me adjust to school life until it was recognized.

  • VX

    VX

    July 4th, 2011 at 11:57 PM

    I think the major problem is identifying anxiety in children. It’s harder to identify than it is in adults. Parents need to study so many things once they have a child. Phew, gonna be a hectic few years up ahead ;)

  • CLARE

    CLARE

    July 5th, 2011 at 4:47 AM

    Kids feed off of the emotions of the parents. When they see the parents getting upset and anxious most of them are naturally going to mimic this and mirror those same emotions. One of the top things that we can do as parents is to keep our own emotions under control, if not all of the time at least while we are around our children. They are little sponges and absorb everything around them, so why not give them a good example to follow instead of a stress ball one.

  • Jeffrey S Gallup MA LPC

    Jeffrey S Gallup MA LPC

    July 6th, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    A great idea is to be a good role model to our children in how we deal with our own anxiety. The more we talk and communicate with our children to help them understand their feelings the easier it is too role-model good ways to deal with their anxieties.

  • joyce mcallister

    joyce mcallister

    July 6th, 2011 at 6:23 PM

    @J.D. Boyd – That is precisely why kids hate school! Teachers REFUSE to ease them in, making everything seem like the end of the world if they don’t get it right first time and being miserly about giving them second chances.

    Children need educated. However we shouldn’t be treating them like small adults and laying adult pressures upon them! What happened to schooldays being the best days of your life?

  • May Black

    May Black

    July 6th, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    When school is being a problem, it needs to be acknowledged by everyone involved that not all kids are smart right out of the box and can hit the ground running. I did poorly in school but I wasn’t dumb at all by a long shot. I just didn’t grasp things as easily as the other students. All I got was scolded instead of some private tutoring to see what would work for me. I would get there in the end, but it took time.

  • Tori V. Michael

    Tori V. Michael

    July 8th, 2011 at 10:05 AM

    Children have a habit of over or underreacting as well. That’s why finding out the exact problem is important, because it could be mundane or it could be serious.

    Children don’t understand everything as easily as we would always want them to, like it or not. Pushing them isn’t helpful. Getting to the bottom of it is.

  • Nathan Donald

    Nathan Donald

    July 9th, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    My son once freaked out because he “cheated” in a maths test. He simply used a different method for it- instead of doing 7 x 9 he did 7 x 10 and subtracted 7 from the number. He thought that he was going to get in trouble because to him, teachers are all-knowing and all-seeing. I wish kids today felt the same! They have little respect for teaching staff these days.

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