Approximately 4.4 million children ages 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with anxiety. Experts say kids whose parents exhibit anxious behaviors are more likely to show signs of anxiety themselves.
Here are six techniques for helping children handle anxiety.
1. First, empathize. “Have your child explain what he’s anxious about, and listen carefully,” says Jephtha Tausig, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City. Then, show you understand by using supportive language, such as, “It’s normal to feel nervous about taking the bus for the first time.” Don’t judge, dismiss or ridicule your child’s fears.
2. Teach ways to self-calm. Help your kid think of strategies she can use when she feels anxious. For young children, you might suggest turning to a favorite stuffed animal for comfort. Or counting. “Ask your child to give the anxiety a number from one to ten — or 1 to 100 — and then have her slowly count down from that number to zero,” Dr. Cohen says. An older kid could practice deep breathing or write her thoughts down on paper and then tear it up and throw it away.
You can also teach your kid to use positive self-talk. For example, “I studied for the test, so I should do well,” instead of “I’m probably going to fail the test.” And, of course, let your child know she can come to you if she needs help.
3. Model calm behavior when facing your anxieties. “If you panic when confronted with certain things, like insects or thunderstorms, then your children may also come to view these things as dangerous or frightening,” Dr. Tausig says. Even if you think you’re hiding it, your child senses your anxiety.
“Children are smart, and many will pick up on things even if they aren’t explicitly mentioned,” says Dr. Tausig.
4. Consider your parenting style. “Hovering and helicopter parenting doesn’t make children safe; it makes them anxious,” Dr. Cohen says.
“Doing too much for your children, instead of allowing for manageable challenges, gives children the idea that their parents don’t think they are competent, which makes the world very scary,” he says.
5. Gradually confront the anxiety trigger. “You can take any situation that makes your child anxious and create a bravery ladder that gradually allows your child to face her fear,” says Dr. Pincus.
She recommends breaking the objective down into baby steps, making each one a touch harder.
For example, if your child’s anxiety is about attending a sleepover, a bottom step might be sleeping in a sibling’s room, a couple of steps up might be sleeping at a cousin’s house, and the very top could be going to a sleepover at a friend’s house.
6. Know when to get help. If your child’s fears or worries fit the criteria of an anxiety disorder mentioned above, discuss it with his pediatrician or a mental health provider. Read more…