All too often, we think of anxiety as a problem for grown-ups. When kids confess their worries to the adults in their lives, we may give them trite advice, telling them to focus on other things, or even worse, to just “not worry” about the problem.
Between 10-20% of school-aged children experience anxiety, and there are many different forms of childhood anxieties and fears. It’s important for adults to know how to react, what to say – and what not to say.
Teach Kids to Verbalise Their Anxiety
The first and most important thing that parents can do to help their child manage anxiety is to teach them to give voice to their concerns. When kids talk to adults about the things that they’re concerned about, adults can then help them to determine if their fears are realistic or not, come up with strategies to combat the worries, and think about how to get through frightening situations, if they do arise.
If your child comes to you to tell you they’re concerned about something, don’t shut them down. Hear them out, and ask what you can do to help. Your child may just want to talk, or they may need some assistance in figuring out what to do.
Encourage Them to Face Their Fears
When your child says they’re afraid of a new activity, it can be instinctive to tell them they don’t have to go. Or, if you’ve spent money planning a trip or scheduling a holiday, you might feel angry that something you thought of as exciting is now scary. Either way, stay calm when you talk to your child.
It’s important to encourage kids to face their fears, and not let them become paralysed by anxiety. Still, be careful, sometimes, kids have underlying fears about an event that they’re not communicating, and pushing them may backfire.
Set Realistic Expectations
If your child says they’re afraid of a test, or that someone at school will laugh at them if they make a mistake, it can be tempting to promise that everything will be fine. But as a parent, it’s important to set realistic and healthy expectations.
Instead of promising that external circumstances won’t be scary – something you can’t guarantee – remind your child that they are strong and brave, and that whatever happens, they’ll be okay. Remind them that you’ll love them no matter what, even if they don’t get an A on the test or they don’t make the footy team.
Reward Bravery and Schedule Downtime
When your child does something that they were scared to do, acknowledge their effort. Ask them how it felt to be brave, and reward their effort with a special trip or some quality time together.
Also, remember that kids who are over-scheduled are the first ones to experience anxiety. Make sure that your child has time to relax and play as well as participate in school and activities.
Model Good Self-Care
Kids who have anxious parents are more likely to become anxious kids. Some parents first see their own unhealthy anxieties when they see their kids developing the same fears that they experience.
One of the most powerful things that adults can do for their anxious kids is to model great self-care. Show your child what it looks like to take some time off, relax and take care of yourself. Show them positive self-talk when you make a mistake or are nervous about a work project or life event.
While much can be done at home to help kids manage anxiety, some kids need the help of a therapist or psychologist to get a good handle on their anxiety. If your child expresses a desire to hurt themselves, has a sudden change in mood or behaviour, or seems to be unable to manage their anxiety despite following the suggestions above, seeking out the advice of a child psychologist can be a tremendous help.
This can often be more nerve-racking for parents than for the kids, but rest assured that many of our team of clinical psychologists have great experience in child psychology. We can work with you and your child to find the root of the anxiety and help you both to find ways to address the situation – book a consultation today.