Helping anxious children is easier said than done. Most people have anxiety, to some degree: A fear, a worry, an anxious feeling.
Sometimes that anxiety will help your child, keeping them safe. On the other hand, when a child has too much anxiety, they have a a feeling that is overprotective, that keeps them from being able to handle a situation. It leaves the child feeling like they must completely avoid a situation, in order to keep it under control. This is when anxiety harms our children.
The thing about anxiety is that our kids aren’t looking at the situation (the crowded park, the big dog, the diving board), but instead, they are thinking about the worst-case scenario. They worry themselves into a corner and they can’t get out. They think about how it can go wrong.
So… how do we help our children?
- Seek professional help.
- Story-telling. Role playing. Use your child’s toys and play out specific situations. “Oh look, Snow White… here comes a big dog.” Talk to your child about the worry. Sometimes we feel worried when we see things like a big dog, but what is it that worries you? How can we stop worrying?
- Break big things into smaller things. Our son is always scared to go to church because he is nervous that his teacher won’t be there and he will have a substitute. We combat this worry by giving him an easy alternative. “If you have a substitute, I’ll stay in there with you for 15 minutes. If you want to stay, great. If not, that’s OK, too.”
- Be an example. Anxious children can have difficulty showing people that they are angry or sad, because they are worried that they will annoy or anger people. Show them that you have these feelings, too, and they are OK.
- It is not a behavior problem. Do not punish your child for anxiety. Try to be empathetic.
- HEAR your child. Stop what you are doing, look at your child, listen to what they are saying and then react. Your child wants to know that his words are being heard. Don’t we all want to feel like someone is hearing us, even if they aren’t solving the problems?
- “There is nothing wrong with you.” – your child wants to know that he is normal. Worrying is completely normal, sometimes it just gets out of hand.
- Give your child’s worry a name. Example: “Wally Worrier- he likes to make us worry, but we won’t let him… not today. Sorry, Wally, but that isn’t really going to happen.”
- Don’t blame yourself. You didn’t cause your child to worry, but you can help you child to get a grasp on it or lead your child to someone who can help.