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Anxiety is crushing enough as it is, but for children who haven’t yet gained the communication skills or coping mechanisms adults have often acquired by the time they reach functional adulthood, anxiety may be an even deeper and darker nightmare. This article sketches out some ideas and explanation for parents walking through adolescent and childhood anxiety with their kids. Special thanks to Noah Smith, who reached out to us expressing concern for kids with anxiety that goes untreated and unaided. Noah loves sharing his travel advice on WellnessVoyager. He tries to take one big trip each year, is currently saving up to backpack through Europe, and graced our blog with his presence this morning through these insights into the mental health struggles so many endure throughout their childhood.
Author: Noah Smith
Growing up, children will go through many phases. Phases are normal, temporary, and typically harmless. However, if you notice signs of nervousness, fear, and shyness in your child that doesn’t go away, they may be dealing with an anxiety disorder. Here are a few tips on how you can help your child successfully cope with their anxiety.
Give them your support.
Having anxiety can make a child feel isolated and alone due to the stress it causes. As a parent, you need to show them that they are not alone and you are there to help them face this trying time.
There will be times you will want to shield your child from what triggers their anxiety, but the best way for them to learn how to successfully cope with and perhaps get over it is to face everything. They have to learn how to tolerate their anxiety and function to the best of their ability, especially when they are stressed. It can be tempting to take over, and although it will make your child feel better in the moment, it relays the message that they can’t handle it on their own.
One of the best ways you can support your child is by expressing positive, but realistic expectations. You can’t promise your child that they will never experience anxiety, but you can express confidence that they will be able to manage their anxiety and everything will be okay.
Let your child know that as they face their fears, their anxiety level will begin to drop. Build up their personal strength by praising them for facing challenges. Whether it is a pat on the back or a trip to get frozen yogurt, simple praise will go a long way in building your child’s self confidence.
Let them feel.
Expressing confidence in your child’s ability to overcome anxiety is very necessary, but you will also need to respect their feelings so that you don’t belittle their fears. Although it may be hard for you to bear, it is okay to let your child experience some anxiety.
It is important that you explain to your child that anxiety isn’t dangerous or a punishment, but rather their body’s natural coping mechanism. For example, it explains why they feel scared if they can’t find you in the store or why they feel anxious when they are walking home from a friend’s house and it is getting dark.
Anxiety is natural, but sometimes it bubbles over and becomes a barrier. Offer them encouragement to help them realize that they can face their fears. The message you want to come across is, “I recognize that you are afraid and that’s okay. I’m here and I’m going to help you get through this.” Fear is natural and overcoming it is too.
Teach them a positive coping strategy.
Breathing exercises can help your child to calm themselves in stressful situations and stave off a panic attack. A technique called calm breathing teaches your child how to slow down their breathing when they are feeling anxious. When children are anxious, they tend to take quick shallow breaths, which may cause hyperventilation. Calm breathing will help your child reestablish their sense of control.
Teach your child to take a slow breath in through their nose, hold their breath for 2 seconds, then exhale slowly through their mouth. Wait a few seconds, then repeat up to 10 times. Once your child becomes comfortable with this technique, encourage them to do it any time they feel it is necessary. This is an exercise that your child can do anywhere and it is so subtle that other people won’t even notice what they are doing.
The sooner you begin to enforce ways to successfully manage your child’s anxiety, the better off they will be. If left untreated, anxiety can lead to alcohol abuse or addiction when your child gets older. As a parent, you always want what’s best for your child, so start implementing these tools today so your child can live their best life.