Last Modified: March 15, 2023 | Published: January 18, 2023
#1 Teach your child about anxiety
Anxiety is an alarm system in the body that is supposed to go off when there is danger. Unfortunately, sometimes our bodies send off false alarms when we are going about everyday life, leaving us feeling anxious, stressed, and worried at a time when worry is not helpful. When experiencing anxiety about an event that may be far away or hasn’t happened, it is time to use a strategy.
#2 Teach your child what happens in their body when anxiety and worry are present
When you experience anxiety, your body activates your stress response system.
Anxiety and strong emotions may cause the following symptoms: dilating of pupils, cold hands, sweaty hands, tightening chest, heart beating fast, and blood rushing into your muscles. Your muscles can become tense, and it may be hard to relax. Anxiety felt in the body is also called somatization.
When you are anxious, your mind may focus exclusively on one thing, making it hard to pay attention to anything else. When you are stressed, your digestion system may shut down, leaving you with a stomach ache. You may have a sinking feeling in your tummy or feel nauseous. You get a burst of adrenaline and cortisol, which can leave you feeling jittery and on edge to the point of exhaustion. This sensation is sometimes referred to as ‘wired and tired.’ It’s the feeling of stress that is coupled with a feeling of physical depletion. Take our Cadey course to learn of some great resources we recommend for teaching your child about anxiety.
#3 Let your child know their body doesn’t know the difference between perceived danger and real danger
Teach your child that their body can not distinguish between perceived and real danger. When your child starts to worry about a difficult situation, their body will respond as if that situation is happening now.
Pause, take a moment, and ask, “Am I in danger right now?”
If there is no real danger, teach your child to use a strategy to calm down. Learn some great techniques you can use with your child in our Children and Anxiety class here.
#4 Consider: Best Case, Worst Case, and Most Likely Outcome.
When we become worried, our minds often think of the worst possible scenario.
Teach your child to pause and ask, ‘What is the worst thing that could happen?” Then ask, “What is the most likely outcome?” Teach your child to focus on what is most likely to happen, which is generally not a threatening or scary situation.
#5 Help your child know about adult worries and kid worries
Often, kids will pick up on our strong emotions. They will begin to ask themselves anxiety-provoking questions.
- “Will my parents get a divorce?”
- “Grandma is sick. What can we do to help her?”
- “My parents got into an argument. What if they divorce, and we have to move away?”
- “What if I have to attend a new school?”
- “Our dog is getting old. What will we do?”
First, acknowledge your child’s feelings. They are valid; it is normal for young people to feel scared and worried when experiencing hard times.
Help your child to understand it is not their job to fix adult concerns. Remember that children have a sense that they have control over everything that happens. They think that they should make everyone happy. For example, if you and your partner are struggling, it is not your kid’s job to improve your relationship or change the family dynamics. Let your child know that the adults are working together to develop the best solution.
If your child is worried about their grades, that is a worry they can solve. Help your child make a plan for improving their grades. When young people can find solutions to problems they can solve, it builds resilience. When they try to resolve adult problems, they feel stressed. This is why parents want to really dig in and teach kids when they have control over a situation and when they do not. In this way, kids learn to let go of their anxieties around situations that are outside of their sphere of influence.
#6 Avoiding what we are worried about only makes anxiety worse
First, it is essential to ensure your child is safe. If your child is safe, approach the situation with warmth and care without letting your child avoid the stressor. Avoiding an activity only increases distress. Let us say, for example, your young child misses you after a school break and doesn’t want to leave you. Your child explains that they have a stomach ache and refuse to go. When you give in, you give your child permission to avoid the stressor. Your child’s anxiety will decrease at that moment because the stressor has gone away. However, the next time they have to face that same fear, their anxiety will increase. Why? Because they are starting to see that the situation is scary enough to be worth avoiding. It is now much harder to face it the next time. This experience is called the cycle of avoidance.
Instead, it is helpful to make a plan to support your child in going to school. Bring your child to school and help them cope with their fear. Are you wondering how to help your child with common childhood fears such as starting a new school, fear of shots, fear of the dark, or talking with new people? Check out our Cadey course on anxiety here. You will learn tips to help your child today.
#7 Help your child relax
When your child is upset, saying “don’t worry about it” is generally ineffective. You can imagine telling a friend, “I am so stressed about my job,” and your friend saying back, “well, there is nothing to worry about!” You would be unlikely to find that advice very helpful. Instead, you can tell your child that you are here to listen. Then, help your child learn how to relax their body with positive affirmations and mindfulness techniques. If you are looking for specific relaxation strategies that can help when your child is anxious, check out our course here.
#8 Help your child notice their thoughts
It is normal to have negative thoughts. Most people have faulty ways of thinking that can increase anxiety. Teach your child to recognize negative self-talk and replace it with healthier thoughts. In psychology, we call it ‘cognitive distortions’ when a person uses faulty logic that leads to distressing thoughts and emotions. Would you like to learn more about how to work with your child on improving their thought patterns? Check out our course here.
#9 Read calming and happy stories before bed
Bedtime can be a source of anxiety for many kids. They may have a fear of monsters, separation from parents, or the dark. It can help to read soothing, uplifting stories before bed to help put your child’s mind in a positive place. If you are wondering how to help your child with a fear of the dark, check out our course here.
#10 Model healthy coping skills around anxiety yourself
Kids watch what we say and do. Share your kid-appropriate fears with your child and how you skillfully faced the fear. Modeling positive self-talk and healthy coping can go a long way in helping your child reduce their anxiety.
The great thing about anxiety is that it is so treatable. Not only can anxiety be treated, but there is a lot we can do at home to help ourselves and our children. In my eleven years working with kids and their parents, I have seen kids improve almost overnight when parents teach their children healthy tools for coping with anxiety. Learn these tools here.
Anxiety is one of the most common childhood mental health concerns, and it is treatable. Check out our course today from a child psychologist who gives you hands-on tools that you would receive during a therapy session. You can have help now. Check out our course here.