Does your child tend to be nervous, avoidant, annoying or exhausting? Is your child expressing fear that is beginning to turn into anger? Anxiety in children is more common than you think. Approximately 1 out of 10 children suffers from an anxiety disorder. Parents face special challenges handling anxiety in children because of their often hectic, fast-paced and over-scheduled daily routines.
In contrast to the ordinary, occasional worries or fears experienced in childhood, generalized anxiety disorder persists for at least six months and affects children throughout the day (at home, at school, and with friends). At home, as well as at school, providing a sympathetic and tolerant environment and making some adaptations may be helpful in combating anxiety in children. If your child is experiencing stress and anxiety, here are some parenting techniques to help alleviate the anxieties, fears and/or anger that your child may be experiencing.
- Understand that anxiety is an illness. Understanding the nature of anxiety and how it is experienced by a child will help you, the parent, sympathize with your child’s struggles. Let your child know she is not doing anything wrong when she has feelings of fear or anxiety.
- Listen to your child. By listening and showing empathy you can be enormously comforting when something is bothering your child. Being supportive and available for your child is a wonderful supportive message that will encourage her to continue her communication efforts rather than to become withdrawn.
- Keep calm when a child becomes anxious. Yes, at times situations can spiral out of control when your child’s feelings of anxiety, fear and anger are at play. But if a child sees the parent remain calm, the child can gain a sense of assurance about the situation. When children observe another person interacting effectively with the feared situation, they have a constructive model to emulate. Staying calm gives you a chance to develop dialogue, offer encouragement, guided instruction and constructive feedback.
- Develop daily routines. Balance any changes you are making in the household with as regular a routine as possible. Getting to school in the morning or preparing for bed in the evening may become complicated for a child with fears and anxieties. Stick to regular bed time and mealtime schedules so your child can rely on certain daily patterns and anticipate what is going to happen during the day.
- Teach relaxation techniques. Offer strategies your child can use to regain a sense of calm when she begins to experience spiraling emotions. Examples include deep breathing, counting to 10, or visualizing a soothing place. Teaching children how to relax can empower them to develop mastery over their specific anxiety symptoms.
- Encourage exercise. Exercise is a great stress reducer. To combat anxiety in children include opportunities for regular exercise in their daily routine. Even if your child is only walking around the block, fresh air and exercise can lift his or her spirits.
- Praise your child’s efforts to address her anxiety symptoms. Children often feel that they only hear about their mistakes. Even if her improvements are small, offering praise will go a long way. This encourages your child to continue trying strategies to solve the fears and anxieties she experiences.
I have used these techniques as I have raised my two children. What techniques work — or don’t work — with yours?