A quick note from Carly: I came across this article last week and I immediately knew that I wanted to share it with my readers. I feel that as adults, we tend to focus on OUR stressors and OUR anxiety issues. We forget that children are prime candidates for internalizing stress as well!
Nearly every child deals with anxiety at some point in his or her little life. Whether it's worrying about the first day of school or a fear of the dark, childhood anxiety is quite common. That’s right -- it’s actually a normal part of child development. These fears help children sort out what is and isn’t a threat.
But oh! It's SO difficult to see your sweet child troubled by one thing or another. It's also hard as a parent when you think you’ve come up with a good solution, but then -- SURPRISE -- you just keep revisiting the same anxieties, and it feels like you never really solve anything!
So you may wonder how to help a child with anxiety. Here are some ideas to coax out the calm child within:
Help Them Work Through It
Want to really know how to help a child with anxiety? Give your children the tools needed to work through their problems. While it seems like saying, “Stop worrying about it” or “Oh, that won’t happen” is a good way to make peace, kids know that isn't entirely true.
They’re gonna call your bluff. In life, bad things do happen. So instead, try saying, “I love you and we'll work through whatever frightens you.”
Our kids hear about upsetting things everyday -- from not making the team to getting a bad report card to more serious things like kidnappings, abuse, death, and divorce -- all these can be frightening to children! Kids look to the adults in their lives for assurance, coping strategies, and protection.
So talk with your child. What are his concerns, fears, and worries?
Hold a Strategy Session
With your child’s help, make a list of fears and talk through each one. Come up with a plan for handling each one, in case it happens. Enlisting your child's help in this step is key because it helps her learn problem-solving techniques -- the very things she will need as she grows and works through problems on her own.
Grownups are key to help their children understand that when a person worries, it doesn’t keep bad things from happening. By talking through it with them and making a plan, you're actually modeling the inner dialogue healthy adults use when coping with a fear.
Teach Them the Warning Signs
There's a real, practical benefit when a person knows the difference between merely feeling afraid and sensing actual danger. On one hand, being aware of a bad situation can prompt a person to take positive action. But on the other hand, being afraid can immobilize a person, which increases the possibility of suffering harm.
Teach your child that if his thoughts start multiplying, he might be engaging in unnecessary worry. Maybe he can work through a concern by asking questions to himself. Could it really happen? Can I actually do anything to prevent it? Reassure him that if he cannot overcome a worry, you're available and willing to discuss it with him.
Current research also gives parents some helpful tips on how to help a child with anxiety. Check out what they say:
Watch Your Words
While there are many things that may cause anxiety, studies suggest one factor is how parents communicate with their kids. Are you surprised by this? I bet you had a hunch. You’re smart like that.
Specifically, studies like Hosey and Woodruff-Borden (2012) show that parents who communicate negative emotion (using words like fearful, sad, or nervous) when talking with their children may cause the child's brain to signal danger.
(I cringe to think how many times I've said, "Don't do that, honey. That makes Mom nervous." Whoops.)
Then, this negative bias can become mentally associated with other similar situations, even when little to no danger is actually present.
Land the Helicopter
On a similar note, the study by Hosey and Woodruff-Borden (2012) suggests that so-called "Helicopter Parenting" (you know -- hovering over your child's every move) can contribute to childhood anxiety as well.
So. Many. Times. I'm the guilty one here -- I see potential problems or mistakes before my kids do, and I want to warn them. I don't want her to have a tummy ache! I don't want him to skin his knee!
My motives are good, but the result is not. Part of learning in childhood is discovering consequences of your own choices -- not just having Mommy tell you all about them. Darn.
So -- oh, it’s sort of scary to type this -- don't be afraid to let them make mistakes. That's a big part of how kids learn!
Hosey and Woodruff-Borden also suggest that being more accepting of your children and their choices (and thereby less controlling) can help them overcome childhood anxiety.
(I should probably note, this is within reason. Please use your best judgment when parenting your kids!)
Know the Warning Signs
The good news is that most kids eventually grow out of childhood anxiety! But if your child seems to be showing anxiety beyond his or her level of maturity, or if your child shows what's called "excessive anxiety" (when the fear is disproportionately large compared to the threat), please speak to a professional to assess whether things can be done to further help your child.
This parenting gig isn’t easy, and we at Smart Kids 101 know that. We’re the Mother/Daughter team of Julie and Aubrey Hunt, and it’s our goal to bring you tools that make your job better. Make your home happier. Make training your kids easier. Whether you’re wanting to teach them manners or safety or how to be an awesome babysitter -- we’ve got you covered! With a whole lot of encouragement along the way.
Thank you, Carly, for putting the spotlight on Smart Kids 101 today!
We sure have had fun being here at The Puzzled Palate!
I selected a few other articles from their site that I found especially helpful.
Check them out!
How to Handle Bossy Behavior (As Seen On 90's TV)
Do You Make These Life-Threatening Mistakes around Kids with Food Allergies?
Have you ever dealt with childhood anxiety? Do you have some tips to add for how to help a child with anxiety?
Please share them in the comments!