If your child has mild to moderate anxiety, or has not been diagnosed with a disorder, you can learn more general home management strategies for your child.
Although there are different types of anxiety problems and specific strategies aimed at helping children cope with different types of fears, here are some general strategies that can help any child who is experiencing anxiety problems:
Listen – Make sure you take the time to listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings. Simply feeling heard can be very helpful to your child.
Normalize – It is important to let your child know that he or she is not alone. Lots of children have problems with anxiety.
Educate -Let your child know that anxiety is normal, harmless, and temporary.
Model it – Model facing fears and provide support and encouragement. Motivate your child through supportive coaching. However, be careful not to push your child too far too fast. Let your child work at his or her own pace.
Avoid Giving Excessive Reassurance – Resist giving excessive reassurance, instead encourage your child to use his or her coping strategies (for example, calm breathing or challenging scary thoughts)
Praise – Don’t forget to praise your child for his or her efforts! Remember, facing your fears is not easy!
What children need to know about anxiety:
Anxiety is normal. Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in time. For example, it is normal to feel anxious when on a rollercoaster or before an exam.
Anxiety is adaptive as it helps us prepare for real danger (such as a bear jumping out of the woods) or performing at our best (for example helps us get ready for a test or big game). When we experience anxiety it triggers our “fight-flight-freeze” response and gets our body ready to defend itself (for instance, our heart beats faster to pump blood to our muscles so we have the energy to run away or fight off danger). Without it, we would not survive. Anxiety can become a problem when our body reacts in the absence of real danger. It can be helpful to think of anxiety as a smoke alarm. We don’t want to take the batteries out of the alarm in case there is a real fire, but we do want to fix the alarm so that it doesn’t go off every time we make toast.
Learning to relax:Four strategies can be particularly helpful: calm breathing, muscle relaxation, counting and thought stopping.
1. Calm Breathing: This is a strategy that your child or teen can use to calm him or herself down quickly. You can explain to your child that we tend to breathe faster when we are anxious. This can make us feel dizzy and lightheaded, which can make us even more anxious. Calm breathing involves taking slow deep breaths. Encourage your child to breathe in through the nose, pause, and then breathe out through the mouth, pausing several seconds before taking another breath. For younger children, have them imagine that they are blowing huge bubbles that slowly rise and float away. Make sure your child’s breathing is slow and gentle.
2. Muscle Relaxation: Another helpful strategy is to help your child or teen learn to relax his or her body. This involves having your child tense various muscles and then relax them. You can also have your child use “the flop,” which involves having your child imagine that he or she is a rag doll and relax the whole body at once.
3. Counting: It can be helpful for younger children to simply learn to count through the anxious feelings. If they learn to focus on the numbers 1-10, it will decrease their focus on the fear, promoting relaxed feelings quicker. It may be necessary to repeat the 1-10 several times, depending on their feelings, but it is an easy and empowering strategy to learn.
4. Thought Stopping: This is a an advanced strategy for older children and teens, who have more cognitive awareness and skills. When we are anxious, we tend to see the world as very threatening and dangerous. However, this way of thinking can be overly negative and unrealistic. Thought stopping involves identifying the negative thoughts that lead up to anxious feelings, such as “this will never work”, “I’m so stupid” or “something bad is going to happen”. By becoming aware of the thoughts and consciously changing them, research has shown that anxiety is decreased and that people feel more general control over their own emotions. It’s helpful to have a positive thought to turn to, something basic and wide-reaching, such as “I’m okay”, “I’m going to be okay”, “everything is okay”, “this feeling will pass and I will be okay”. Remember that learning to think realistically can be difficult at any age, so give your child some time to learn and practice these skills.Note: Younger children may have a harder time identifying exactly what they fear; however, they can benefit from coming up with some coping statements that they can say to themselves to help them deal with feelings of fear or anxiety. For example, “It won’t go on forever, it will end.”