Watching a child suffer from fears and anxiety is heartbreaking. Studies have shown that 10-20% of school-aged children suffer from chronic anxiety. (1) From the simple fear of meeting someone new or trying something outside their comfort level, to night terrors and sleepless nights, the stress and worry as a parent of an anxious child only amplify when you watch your child experience this crippling emotion.
With encouragement and a positive environment, over time, many children will grow out of their hesitancies. However, without help and guidance, some children face much more debilitating anxiety which can follow them into adulthood.
Whether you want to help your child overcome small or more complex phases of anxiety, here are a few tips to help them on their way.
When your child is experiencing anxiety stop and listen to what may be causing it. Sometimes the trigger can be as simple as the unknown. Taking time to talk out their fears and what may be causing them to have anxiety can help lessen the impact. Letting yourself be a sounding board instead of a problem solver can let the frustration or fear have a place to be voiced without judgment. If your child is open to solutions, let guide them through them. If not just let them know you are there for them by listening. Just letting them explain what may be troubling them can lead to either of you finding a solution or coming up with a plan to help ease their worries.
When I was young, I was terrified of the dentist chair. So much so that once I hyperventilated and passed out. My dentist came up with a plan for me to focus on wiggling my toes when I was going to get novicane. The distraction worked, and I’ll have to admit I still do it to this day. When dealing with a stressful situation letting your mind stray to more pleasant thoughts or having a goal at the end of the situation and ease the mind.
Often in our best intentions, we as parents often overschedule our children. From pushing them past nap times to scheduling an extra activity that they are begging to do we are all guilty of it from time to time. Unfortunately, most of the time anxiety and its nasty friends come along for the ride. Even when you can’t avoid doubling up on say a sport or activity on certain days, make sure to schedule downtime to offset so that your child won’t be as overwhelmed. It’s better to have an “I’m bored” day than a meltdown or anxiety attack.
Seeing the news today can make even an adult anxious and overwhelmed. Limit exposure to news and upsetting shows that it may be too old or mature for children to understand. Taking the time to explain troubling events calmly and in words they can understand can also help ease their tension.
Set an Example
Children feed off your emotions. When you are feeling anxious, your child can sense it and will react accordingly. If you don’t control your anxious tenancies, you will only be feeding the anxiety monster in the both of you. Finding ways to keep your inner anxiety battles under control will help your child worry less about what you may be feeling and more about what their own emotions are telling them. Your child will take your cue when you practice your inner mindfulness. And with your example, it will help them find their inner mindfulness. For tips on calming see here.
The Beauty of Routine
Often anxiety is caused by changes in routines. When routines dissolve, it breaks familiarity and order which most anxious children need to maintain thier comfort levels. Keeping bedtimes at the same time each night, morning routines in the same order and managing schedules will not only help you as a parent but will make sure your child can expect certain habits. It makes it something for them to hold on to and know what is expected and expected of them.
When I find my daughter spiraling with one of her anxiety attacks I let her know I believe in her. My daughter is a pleaser and can be really hard on herself when she makes a mistake. I gently remind her that there is no such thing as perfection- it’s only an idea. And that it means something different to everyone. Embrace your quirks and love your differences- its what makes you, well, you. Mistakes are only bumps in the road and small learning lessons. The fact is nobody’s perfect. And that people love you for just being you makes a world of a difference to children who are hard on themselves. Using those kind words and gentle reassurances to lift doubts will lighten the load of their self-criticism.
Consult a Professional
If your child continues to suffer from their anxieties, sometimes the ear of a professional can help tremendously. Sometimes knowing that they can talk to someone else outside of the family can open up dialogue and give insight that may be overlooked by family or friends. Letting your child have the time to explore why they are anxious with a therapist or other professional can make a world of difference.
Anxiety Disorders Association of America: www.adaa.org
Child Anxiety Network: http://www.childanxiety.net/