Many parents are all too familiar with helping their children deal with anxiety, which can include social, academic, separation and crowd anxiety, among others.
Every child is different, and each situation can be challenging despite how well you know your child. Below are some important things to remember when you’re faced with a situation that has triggered your child’s anxiety:
It’s Ok to Worry
Worrying is a natural – and important – part of life. It helps us protect us from harmful things, people, and situations, and can even generate motivation. It sends us a warning signal that something is wrong or needs to be done. All this to say, worrying is a routine part of life, and it’s important to explain that to a child with anxiety.
Let them know that they’re not alone in their fear – plenty of other kids at school are also nervous to speak in front of the class or try out for the soccer team. If your child feels like they’re the only one with fears, they may start to feel self-conscious about their anxiety, exacerbating it further. Help your child by listening, respecting their feelings, they working toward a positive solution. Remember: the idea isn’t to rid your child of worry altogether, but to learn how to manage it.
Avoidance Is Not the Answer
While it may seem like an easy short-term solution, don’t avoid people and situations that trigger anxiety. If your child is constantly removed from situations that are difficult, they will learn that this is a valid coping mechanism and make a habit of it. Teaching your child to tolerate and manage will, over time, help them reduce, or even overcome, their anxiety. Instead of going around it, work through it, encouraging your child to face their fears and not run from them.
Children Take Cues from Parents
In order for your child to stay calm and think positively, you’ll have to do the same. Anxiety disorder can be passed down genetically, but it can also be learned from and reinforced by parent behavior.
If your child has had a bad experience on the school bus, you might be worried about how they will respond. But don’t let it show. When a potentially stressful situation arises, treat it like a walk in the park – even if you’re nervous, too. If the child sees or senses your fear, it will reaffirm theirs.
Focus on the Positive of a Situation
While we can’t avoid stressful situations, we can find their silver linings. Try to focus on the positive. Is your child afraid of the dark? Put glow stars on the ceiling and talk about the beauty of the night sky. Better yet, take a drive out beyond the city lights and show them how wonderful darkness can be.
Overcoming Fear Takes Time
Remember that overcoming fear and reducing anxiety is a process, not something that happens overnight. Anxiety in children, especially chronic anxiety, can be frustrating to cope with as stressors often change with the child’s activities and environment. There may be times when you feel like you’re losing more ground than you’re gaining. As your child’s life becomes fuller and more complex with age, stressors can increase. Remember that change is incremental, and patience is essential.