Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease. All children feel anxiety sometimes. It’s a healthy emotion and a natural part of growing up. There are many occasions in life when children feel anxious. They may feel anxious before a big change (going to a new school, before an exam, etc.), or when they have had a distressing or traumatic experience, such as a car accident, the loss of a loved one, or even a parent moving abroad. Arguments or conflicts at home can also make children feel anxious and insecure. If the child’s anxiety and distress continue for a long time, he may feel fatigued, withdrawn, and unable to cope with daily life. Severe anxiety can harm the mental well-being of children and affect their confidence and self-esteem. This is why it’s important for parents to identify signs of anxiety in children and learn ways to help their children cope with anxiety.
Signs of Anxiety in Children
Younger children (children who can’t articulate their feelings) may display the following signs:
- Becoming irritable, tearful, or clingy
- Difficulty sleeping
- Waking up at night
- Having nightmares
The following signs may be observed in older children suffering from anxiety:
- Difficulty in concentration
- Problems with eating or sleeping
- Lack of confidence to try new things/ inability to face simple, everyday challenges
- Constant angry outbursts
- A lot of negative thoughts (keep thinking bad things will happen)
- Avoiding daily activities, like meeting friends, going out in public
7 Parenting Tips to Help with Children Suffering from Anxiety
Some parents assume that the best way to overcome anxiety is to remove the stressors that trigger their children’s anxiety. But in reality, your goal should be to help your child manage anxiety, not eliminate anxiety altogether. Eliminating anxiety without learning to manage it is next to impossible. But if you teach your child how to manage anxiety and function well even when they’re worried, this will result in a decrease in anxiety over time. The following tips will help you manage your child’s anxiety:
1. Calm the Child Down
If your child is on the verge of a panic attack, the first thing to do is calm him down. Encourage them take deep breaths to calm the physical effects of anxiety. You can count slowly to three as you breathe in, then hold your breath for three counts, and then breathe out. Gradually, let the child breathe out for one or two counts longer. This can help the body relax.
You can also encourage your child to engage in an activity that calms him down. For example, an activity like painting, writing in a journal, reading a favorite book, or listening to music. Once your child is calm, you can talk about what’s making him feel anxious.
2. Communicate with the Child
It’s very important for parents to talk to children about their worries and anxiety. Always let children talk openly about their feelings. Listen attentively and let them know you understand their fears and worries. Reassure them by showing them love and acceptance. It’s equally important to help them find solutions to their worries. For children who are old enough to understand, you can also describe what anxiety is and how it affects the body.
3. Take Small Steps Forward
When your child is afraid of something, don’t encourage him to avoid it. But break down his worries into small, manageable chunks or goals. Help your child to gradually take small steps forward. For instance, if your child is afraid of swimming, you can help him manage this fear by breaking down swimming into smaller goals. First, you can sit with him near a swimming pool and watch other kids frolicking in the water. Once the child is more comfortable with water, he can try dangling his legs in water, and then he can try standing in shallow water, and so forth.
4. Set a Routine
Children often find routines comforting and reassuring. You can set aside a time in your child’s routine (10 – 15 minutes) to deal with his worries and anxieties. During this ‘worry time,’ you can get him to write down or draw what makes him worried. You can even make it a fun activity by creating a worry box or making a worry wall. When the time is up, the child can tear down the worry wall or shut the worries in the box and say goodbye to them for the day.
5. Encourage Positive Thinking
Children with anxiety often have negative thoughts and worry incessantly about worst-case scenarios. If you can help your child to change this thinking pattern, it can help to bring down his anxiety level. When he is having negative thoughts, you can remind him about similar issues they have faced in the past and how things worked out without any problems. You can also deal with scary things by presenting facts and evidence. For instance, if the child is scared of flying, you can explain how rare plane crashes are or describe the in-built safety features of a plane.
6. Give Warning in Advance
If your child is distressed by change, you can prepare your child in advance by talking to him about what is going to change, why, and when this change is going to happen. For example, if you’re moving houses, you can let the child know about the move as soon as you make the decision, instead of waiting until the last minute.
7. Don’t Worry or Panic
It’s natural for parents to worry about their children. But if you become anxious and distressed, this can worsen your child’s condition. Being overprotective can reinforce the child’s negative thoughts and fears, fueling his imagination about worst-case scenarios. Similarly, being too helpful can subconsciously make children think that they can’t do anything without parental support. Sometimes, letting children figure things out by themselves helps to build confidence and resilience.
Helping a child deal with anxiety can be an overwhelming experience for the parent. But with the above parenting tips, you can help your child manage his anxiety, letting him live a happy and stress-free life.