It’s normal for children to be anxious occasionally. But sometimes, anxiety can be perpetual and can occupy a child’s thoughts in an all-consuming way. This can begin to affect the child’s ability to engage in normal activities and behaviors and can impact physical and emotional health. If you have an anxious child, here are five strategies we recommend to help them handle their uncomfortable feelings.
For adults, we know that talking in front of a group or heading out for the first day of school will never be “end of the world” scenarios and nothing to panic about. But when we tell an anxious child, “It’s not a big deal” or “Stop worrying about it,” we send a message that the child’s feelings are wrong.
It’s important to validate their feelings instead. First, acknowledge their feelings by saying something like, “It sounds like you’re pretty nervous.” Next, give them a boost of confidence by saying something along the lines of, “It can be tough to do things that make you nervous, but I am confident you can do this.” This sends them a message that while it’s okay to be scared, they can choose to be brave.
Tackle Negative Thoughts
Children and adolescents are prone to negative thinking just like adults. Negative thoughts can cause anxiety and erode self-esteem over time. To help an anxious child, get them to identify their negative thoughts, question them, and then change them into positive thoughts instead.
To catch a negative thought, the child first has to be able to identify it. Help them create a list of negative thoughts they have. Next, encourage the child to play detective to gather clues and assess the evidence behind the negative thoughts. For example, if they tell themselves, “I’m not good at anything,” have them ask themselves, “Is it true? Am I no good at anything? Have there been times where I’ve shown I’m good at something?” This will help them to break down their negative thought and see that it’s not true. The final step is to replace the negative thoughts with positive ones.
Try to steer clear of immediately shutting down the negative self-talk or thought they have. If you respond, “Oh honey, you are good at things,” they won’t learn how to change their negative thinking. Ask them instead, “What would you tell your friend if they thought they weren’t good at anything?” When they offer a positive response, encourage them to tell themselves the same thing.
Teach Deep Breathing
If your anxious child experiences physical symptoms, like tight muscles or a racing heartbeat, teach them to calm their body with breathing exercises. There is no faster way to calm down your body’s physiological stress response and lower anxiety than taking good quality breaths.
The “bubble blowing” technique is a simple way to teach younger children how to get their breathing under control. Tell the child to pretend like they’re blowing bubbles with a wand. The goal is to get big bubbles, so they need to take big, deep breaths in. But bubbles are fragile, so remind them they need to blow softly so it doesn’t pop. This technique will help them to remember to deeply inhale and slowly exhale, even when they’re alone.
Model Self-Care Behavior
You are your kids’ role model, so they will do what you do. If you voice your nervousness but face your fears, your child will do the same. If you take care of yourself and schedule self-care time, your child will learn that self-care is an important part of life. And if you seek out positive situations and voice positive thoughts, so will your child. Children learn lots of behaviors from their parents, so when you think about your child’s mental well-being, think about your own as well.
Seek Professional Help
If your child’s anxiety seems persistent and is disrupting their school attendance, grades, or social activities, they made need professional support. Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents are common. Over 4 million children in the U.S. ages 3-17 are diagnosed with anxiety each year.
Anxiety disorders are treatable, but often go unrecognized or undiagnosed. Treatment usually involves talk therapy but can include medication as well. It’s important to get the help your child needs if they suffer from anxiety.
Equity Associates is here to help your child. Our services are highly personalized for one’s unique needs and with our usage of telemental health, those seeking treatment can do so in the comfort of their home. We’re based in Ridgway, Colorado, but can help those anywhere in the state. No matter what, we’re always here to support those who need us.
Click here for more information on anxiety therapy.