No one wants their children to suffer, but when it comes to anxiety in kids many parents do not know how to help them. Here are some practical strategies that you can use to manage your child’s anxiety.
Anxiety in kids can happen at any time and even the anticipation of it can cause anxiety. The good news is that children are often tougher than we give them credit for, and will be able to overcome their anxiety with some help from you.
Tips for dealing with Anxiety in Kids
Communicate with your Child About Anxiety
Start the conversation with an experience that you had as a child that caused you to be anxious or fearful. Use that experience as an example to help open up communication and trust with your child.
Bring up a situation that your child recently experienced to start the conversation.
“When your friend Bella came over you became very quiet and you quickly ran to my side! You seem to be a bit nervous about having someone visiting our house. Do you want to tell me what happens? This will make a child become more willing to talk about what it was like for them.
Acknowledge Children’s Fears and Listen
Don’t dismiss their fear by making light of it. Acknowledge what they are feeling, and listen to what they have to say. By letting them express what is on their mind, it will help ease their fears. Acceptance of their fears and worries will show support and help them understand that anxiety can happen to anyone. When you talk to them about their fears calmly and openly, they will tell you how they feel about it!
Listen to their fears and acknowledge them. Then, give them a confidence boost and encourage them to face their fear. You want to send the message that you believe in them and that you will help them get through it.
Teach Children to Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
At times, anxiety seems to come without any warning, but there’s a reason fоr this, and understanding thе rеаѕоn іѕ kеу tо helping your child manage anxiety. Explain to your child that anxiety happens to everyone and when it happens thеrе’ѕ a раrt оf the brаіn thаt turns on when it thіnkѕ that there is danger and immediately tries to protect you frоm it. This раrt of the brаіn іѕ called the аmуgdаlа, and its job is to get you ready to run away from danger or fight-fright.
When the amуgdаlа thіnkѕ thеrе’ѕ danger, іt will give your bоdу the oxygen, hormones, and the adrenaline to fuel and роwеr уоur muѕсlеѕ help you run away or take flіght. This happens very quickly without giving any thought as to what is actually causing the fear. The amygdala cannot tell the difference between something that can hurt you or a new situation that may make you afraid. For example, like taking a test, attending a new school or meeting new people.
Changes in the body when a Child feels Anxiety
- Breathing becomes faster, and they may feel confused or dizzy.
- The heartbeat will beat faster as it tries to get more oxygen to the body.
- Since fuel is being sent to their arms and legs they may want to take flight or flee.
- They may become sweaty as their body cools its self down.
- Blood can rush to their face, ears, neck and take on a red color, accompanied by a hot feeling.
- A child may feel as if they have butterflies in their tummy or have a stomach ache that makes them feel sick and give them a dry mouth.
Once your child has an understanding of what their body is feeling when they have anxiety you can then help them manage and cope with their fears better.
Give Anxiety a Name
When your child understands that their anxiety comes from the part of the brain that wants to protect them, you can let them pick the name. You can also ask them to draw a picture of what they think of it. This will make them feel better and help them feel as if they have some control over their fears. They will feel that there is something else that is causing the problem and it is not them. Their fear is something with a name and a face, and they can kick its butt!
Don’t Avoid the Triggers, Manage Them
Avoiding the objects or situations that cause their anxiety might give you good results in the short-term, but the long-term problem still remains and will resurface at some point. Instead, focus on managing the anxiety so they can control it.
Encourage your child with anxiety by helping them to face those fears. If they are afraid of going to baseball practice, don’t decide to take them back home. Instead sit quietly with them and help calm them down. Don’t push or make them do what they fear, but gently encourage them by building their confidence.
Breathing Exercise to Control Anxiety in Kids
Have your child breathe in slowly and deeply. Then have them hold his or her breath for a second, then breathe in and out. You will know that they are breathing correctly when you see that their belly is moving in and out and not their chest. To be sure they are doing it correctly you can place a stuffed animal on their tummy and when you see the toy moves up and down on their belly then they are doing it perfectly. It is helpful if your child does this at least 5 to 10 times.
Practice does make perfect so please have your child do this every day before bed or during the day when they feel anxious. This will help your child to be more relaxed and feel good about him or herself as they learn to control their anxiety.
Anxiety in Kids is Best Managed with Realistic Expectations
Do not tell them that their fears are completely unrealistic. In fact, there is a chance they could actually happen. However, you should express your confidence that your child will be alright. Tell them they will manage to get through it, just like they always do especially when you put into practice the breathing exercises.
You don’t expect them to beat their anxiety quickly, rather, you’ll help them overcome it over time.
Instead of focusing on being rid of the anxiety it is best to help them learn how to handle it in a better way. For instance, the more baseball practices they attend the less fear they will have and the more confidence they will gain. The more they are exposed to those fearful situations the more comfortable they will become.
Practice Mindfulness to Control Your Child’s Anxiety
Anxiety in kids can be controlled when a child practices mindfulness. It will help them control their brain from worrying about things that it does not need to. Mindfulness provides and an opportunity to help your child train their mind to stay in the present, in the here and now.
Explain to them that the brain is a muscle and if they exercise it the stronger it can become. This may not be so easy because their minds to tend to wander, but with some practice, it can be achieved. Here is how it is done:
- Have them sit in or lay down in a quiet place. Then have them close their eyes and become more conscious of their breathing. Make it a game and ask them how does the air feel as they breathe in. Does it make them feel calm? Is their heart beating slowly? Are they relaxed? Make them conscious of those positive feelings they have as they breathe and relax.
- Have them also pay attention to what they are feeling inside and outside their body. If they wander have them come back to focusing on their tummy as it rises and falls as the breathing. Praise them as they successfully do this. Before you know it they are focused on their breathing and feeling less afraid.
Keep in mind, that anxiety in kids is very treatable but it might take some time. Explain to your child that their protective brain might need some convincing and that because it thinks there’s trouble coming but doesn’t mean there is. Keep supporting them and keep them practicing and they will get there.
Don’t Reinforce Their Fears
One thing you absolutely don’t want to do is reinforce their fears. You might be reinforcing their fears without even knowing it. Your tone and body language send messages of their own, even if you’re trying to be helpful with your words.
If you talk about their fears in a worried tone of voice or with apprehensive body language, you are sending them the subconscious message that they really should be afraid.
Instead, try to speak about their fear in a neutral way and use open body language. This sends them the message that you aren’t worried about it, and they shouldn’t be either.
Children learn from their parents, and when you send a strong message they will pick up on it.
Treating anxiety in kids can a difficult, but it’s possible once you’re informed and put into practice the strategies suggested here. Remember to stay positive when you’re dealing with kids with anxiety, and know they should improve over time.