It can be a frustrating, heartbreaking experience watching your child struggle with anxiety, especially when it hinders their daily life and makes it hard for them to just "be a kid." Anxiety can be so consuming and debilitating, and when you are young and still learning how to cope with strong feelings, anxiety can be downright paralyzing.
If you are currently raising a child who battles anxiety, you know first-hand that simply telling them not to worry does not make the problem go away, in fact it can often make it worse. If you are an adult who has also struggled (or is still currently struggling) with anxiety, then you also know how frustrating and condescending those sorts of comments are. Anxiety is not something that goes away in an instant, and it is likely something your child will continue to have to deal with throughout their lives, so you need to give them some tools to help them cope with their strong feelings when they happen. Here are 10 ways to help an anxious child cope with stress.
10 Don't Dismiss Their Feelings
Dismissing your child's feelings of anxiety is probably one of the single most damaging things you can do to them. Saying things like "You're fine" or "You have nothing to be worried about" negates their feelings, causes them to doubt themselves, making them feeling completely alone. Anxiety is a very isolating condition already, and having someone you trust make light of how you feel, can make a child feel even worse.
When your child is expressing feelings of anxiousness, try just listening to them and letting them talk. Sometimes through talking about it, children are better able to wrap their heads around what/how they're feeling, and they can work through it and find a solution a little easier. Let them know that you believe that what they are feeling is very real to them, and that you are there to help them work through it.
9 Teach Them Deep Breathing Techniques
When children are first learning techniques to working through a stressful time, one of the first things they learn is how to become more aware of their breathing. Focusing on breathing allows people to slow the chaos on their minds and focus on something simple like their breathing. This, in turn, helps them to become more focused and tuned in to their body's signals and symptoms.
By slowing down and doing some deep breathing with your child, you can help them to work through a period of anxiousness. Show them how to sit down, close their eyes, and inhale deeply, exhaling slowly after a few seconds. We like using the visualizing technique of "Smell the flowers" (inhale deeply through your nose), and "Blow out the candles" (exhale through the mouth).
8 Stick To Routines
Children who struggle with anxiety often fear the unpredicted, because it is something that causes them to feel out of control. Providing secure routines at home can give your child a strong sense of security and stability. In a world that can seem scary and unpredictable to your anxious child, be the calm that they crave.
For routines like meal times and bedtime, try to keep to a similar schedule most days. If you usually give your child a bath, read them a story, and say goodnight, then follow that bedtime routine as often as you can. If you usually sit down for dinner as a family in the early evening, try to maintain that routine when you can. Those boundaries will help your child to feel more secure, which will help them to manage their anxiety a little easier.
7 Plan Ahead
If there are going to be days or evenings when the routine will get altered, try as much as possible to plan ahead and give your child a heads up about it. If you'll be doing something different for dinner that day, perhaps going to a restaurant or visiting family, let your child know ahead of time, so they can begin to mentally prepare for the event. Anxious children don't often thrive on surprise.
Some parents may argue, however, that telling your child ahead of time only serves to cause them worry throughout the day and to work themselves up about it all day long. This could very well be true, and only you know what is best for your child. If your child will only worry all day long, then let them know at least a little while ahead, so they still have time to process the change in routine before being expected to adapt to it.
6 Don't Avoid Triggers
If there are certain triggers that cause your child increased anxiety, a fear of water for instance, don't avoid the trigger simply because of the result. Your child will need to learn how to cope with these feelings as they get older. The best way to help support them now, is to create safe opportunities for them to experience their fear when you are there to help.
If it is a fear of water that makes your child worry, find opportunities where they can slowly get used to being near water, dipping their toes in to start with, wading in shallow water next, etc. Start slow and don't push it too much with them, let them work through it at their own pace, with a gentle nudge from you when needed.
Meditation is a wonderful tool for combating things like depression and anxiety, not to mention its proven health benefits. Meditating lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, calms the mind, and increases self-awareness. By learning how to meditate, you are teaching your child how they have the power to control their body and their minds.
Depending on your child's personality, choose a form of meditation that works best for them. There are many good guided mediation videos that you can download, and there are countless meditation apps that you can have right on your phone or tablet. Some, of course, are better than others, listen to them and choose the one that feels right for you and your child. Do the meditation with them at first, until they are used to doing it and can do it on their own.
4 Empathize And Validate
One of the most therapeutic treatments for anxiety is simply feeling understood. Feeling validated. Again, anxiety can be very isolating, and you often feel as though you might be going a bit crazy. Having someone tell you that they understand how you feel, and that they are here to help you, can be so healing in itself.
Just knowing that they aren't alone, that someone believes that they are experiencing these feelings for real, and that that someone will stick by you and help you through it, is sometimes all that a child needs to work through their anxiety and feel calmer. Let your child know that you understand and you're here to help them. This will mean the world to them.
3 Don't Ask Leading Questions
Sometimes, in our desire to help and understand, we end up making things worse rather than better. In our questions to better understand, we sometimes ask leading questions that plant even more ideas into our children's heads. Kids have incredible imaginations, and they can often get themselves all worked up about something that is much less than they feel. It is not hard to plant additional ideas, which can then make kids even more anxious.
Let your child talk to you, listen to what they say, but don't ask too many pointed questions about what they are experiencing. Rather, ask open-ended questions that focus on finding a solution, instead of focusing on the negative feelings.
2 Teach Them How To Identify The Physical Symptoms Of Anxiety
There are many different physical symptoms of anxiety, and everyone experiences different varieties and intensities of those symptoms. As your child gets older and is able to verbalize what they are feeling a little easier, you can start to understand what physical symptoms they are feeling when they are feeling particularly anxious.
Help them to recognize what those physical symptoms are and how they affect their body when they are feeling anxious. Perhaps their heart pounds really hard, or their tummy does flip-flops, or their hands get sweaty. The more they can understand about how their body works and how anxiety affects it, the better they will be able to work through those physical symptoms the next time anxiety strikes.
1 Talk It Through
Talking it through is one of the best ways to help your child cope with anxiety. While they are still young, teach them that it is not only normal to get help from someone you trust when you are anxious, but it is beneficial as well. Let them grow up knowing that it is perfectly acceptable to talk about how they are feeling and to ask for help when they need to.
Sometimes, in talking things through, children are able to let some of their worries go, as though they've literally "gotten it off their chest". Be there to talk with them when they need to, make it a positive, safe experience for them, free from judgment or expectations. Often, through talking it out, children will also come up with their own solutions to help them feel better.