How to deal with anxiety in children

We often think of stress, anxiety, and depression as being disorders that only plague adults. Sadly, children can be affected by anxiety too; and it’s our responsibility as parents and guardians to be able to recognize this and help our children accordingly. It’s not always easy to know how to deal with anxiety in children, so following the steps below can be a great starting point.

Listen
It all starts with listening to your child, and acknowledging their feelings as real and important. Kids often do try to tell us how we feel but we may brush it aside as being childish or trivial. Let your child know that nothing he/she feels or tells you is insignificant. Make communication easy for your child – he/she won’t talk to you if he/ she fears punishment or ridicule. Children want to know that they are heard; and need reassurance and encouragement just as much – if not more – than we do.

A great way to get this going is by simply asking how the child feels. Be careful though: you don’t want to be leading or assuming, you simply want to give your child an opportunity to speak to you about their feelings. This simply means that instead of asking your child if they are worried about failing exams, you should rather just ask how he or she feels about the upcoming exams. This gives your child the space to tell you that they are a little anxious without feeling that they were forced to tell you based on your assumptions.

Be positive – not unrealistic
The reality is that uncomfortable and scary situations are sometimes a part of life. It’s our instinct to want to protect our children, but teaching them to avoid their fears or run away from every anxious situation is only going to do more harm than good in the long run.

What we need to do is to teach our children how to deal with anxiety effectively. Your child may be scared of going to the dentist, for example. Instead of telling your child that they don’t have go, you can reassure them that even though you understand it’s very scary, you’ll be there for him/ her all the way, and that you are incredibly proud of his/ her bravery.

It doesn’t also help your child to be unrealistic. This simply means that while you should always maintain an encouraging and positive attitude, it doesn’t help to lie or make promises that can’t be kept. For example, it would be unfair to promise your child that they won’t fail their test even though you know that he/she has been ill and missed a lot of school work. The reality is that your child may actually fail.

Again, just be reassuring. Tell your child that you understand why they feel anxious, but that they shouldn’t get too down on themselves – being ill was out of his/ her control, but that with some extra hard work and dedication, he/ she can feel a proud sense of determination and drive no matter what the outcome of the test is.

Lead by Example
You can’t show your child how to deal with anxiety if you aren’t setting a good example of this yourself. Children are sensitive and learn so much of their attitudes and behaviours from us. This is true even for fears and phobias – you can “pass them down” (teach them) to your children. Your child will also most likely learn your responses to situations that you find stressful. If you allow your anxieties to overwhelm you then your child will also find it more difficult to face their fears.

Please remember that anxiety can be a very serious condition and that you know your child best. If you feel that you have tried coping methods on your own but that your child’s anxieties aren’t improving and are in fact affecting your child’s life negatively you must seek professional medical care.