It’s hard enough for adults to deal with anxiety, how much more so for children.
The confusing thoughts, the worries, the discomfort, the roller coaster feelings of panic and helplessness. It can really be frightening – not just for your child, but also for you.
Naturally, as parents, you want to protect our child from any harm. Your first inclination to remedy your child’s anxiety may be to limit their exposure to the uncomfortable situation. The problem with that impulse, though, is that you could actually make your child’s anxiety worse.
What, then, can you do to help?
The most helpful approach is to be a source of calm and comfort and teach your child how to cope with their anxiety.
10 Ways to Help Your Child Cope With Anxiety
Effective coping skills don’t have to be difficult to learn, nor to teach. Consider a few simple ways you can teach your child to be calm when they face distressing situations.
1. Respect and acknowledge their fears, but don’t amplify them
Encourage your child to express their anxious feelings and validate them, even if you don’t agree with the reasons. But don’t feed their anxiety with unnecessary questions or negative body language. Simply listen and be empathetic.
2. Help them to understand that feeling anxious is okay
Assure them that you understand how hard it can be to tolerate anxiety and that everybody feels it at times. Encourage them to tolerate their anxious feelings and reward them for their brave behavior with praise, a hug, or even something material.
3. Teach them to accept and embrace their imperfections
Acknowledge that it’s okay for them to strive for good things, but that it’s not “all important.” Accepting and embracing their shortcomings is just as important as working hard.
4. Encourage them to face their fears
While it may make your child feel better when they get to avoid things that make them anxious, it only reinforces the anxiety in the long run. Strategies like whisking them away when things get difficult foster bad coping mechanisms.
5. Express confidence that they will be alright
Of course, you can’t promise them that they won’t fail the test or that they won’t get laughed at. But you can voice realistic expectations that they’ll be able to manage and that their anxiety level will decline in time.
6. Help them reason and find solutions
Having a plan can greatly reduce the uncertainty of a feared situation. Talk with your child about the things that make them anxious and help them identify possible solutions. Run through imagined scenarios or role-play the situation, and help them see that they can have a measure of control.
7. Direct them to focus on the positive
Due to life’s pressures, it can be easy for a child to get lost in negative thoughts and self-criticism. Encourage your child to see their positive attributes. And allow them to just be a child at times, having fun without any pressure to be successful.
8. Keep the waiting period short
If your child can see the problem coming a long way off, it will only make them more uneasy. So reduce the anticipatory period just before the situation and don’t have a long discussion about what’s coming up that they fear.
9. Model healthy ways to cope
Let your child see how you cope with your anxiety. Children are perceptive; they take in everything their parents say and do. When you face your fears, tolerate your anxious feelings, and manage the situation calmly, it will also reduce your child’s anxiety.
10. Practice relaxation exercises together
Teach your child skills to reduce immediate symptoms of their anxiety. For example, show them how to slow down their breathing or how to imagine themselves in a relaxing setting when they’re confronted with a feared situation.