Millions of children suffer from anxiety disorders making this the number one mental health problem affecting children and adolescents. Fortunately, it is also the most treatable under the careful guidance of a mental health professional. In addition to seeking professional help, there are strategies parents can implement at home to help ease their child’s fretfulness and tip the worry scale back over to the comfort zone.
Many parents think they are listening to their child. The fact is parents often jump too quickly to comfort their child and offer solutions. However, this does not help children develop coping skills on their own. Resist the urge to reassure and try to solve their problems. Instead, let the child talk more about what is making them worried or anxious. Then, include the child in exploring solutions and alternatives that may help. This will provide much more reassurance than simply telling a child that “everything will be fine.”
Spontaneous and chaotic family lifestyles create a lot of anxiety for kids who worry excessively. However, daily routines can provide much needed structure and stability. This in turn reduces anxiety and gives a child a sense of control because he or she knows what to expect. Set specific times for meals, school, homework, bath time, and bedtime. In addition to preventing fatigue and hunger, having regular routines gives children a sense of security and helps them to relax.
Encourage physical activity:
Anxious children often feel tired because they spend so much time worrying about things. Living in fear can be exhausting. Getting your child involved in some type of daily exercise will actually help to reduce her stress and increase her energy level. Take walks with the family dog or ride your bikes around the neighborhood. Crank up her favorite music and boogie around the living room. Do yard work together or tend a garden on weekends.
Set limits with consequences:
This strategy can sometimes be a bit challenging for parents, especially if an anxious child is easily upset or often has meltdowns. However, being consistent with setting limits and enforcing them actually helps children and adolescents feel more secure when they have boundaries and know what is expected of them.
It’s important for parents to understand that anxious children have a lot of difficulty facing their fears. Don’t poke fun or minimize your child’s fears by telling him how silly they are. Instead, acknowledge and respect his fears by talking about his feelings and brainstorming about possible solutions. Offer support and lots of hugs that communicate security, love, and acceptance. Encourage your anxious child to participate in activities that make him feel good such as reading a book, playing a favorite game, or blowing bubbles. Challenge negative thoughts with positive reinforcement.
Be a good role model:
As a parent, you have the biggest influence on your child. Take stock of how you personally deal with anxiety so that you are not communicating the wrong message. If you are over-protective or anxious, then your child will most likely be fearful, too. Mental Health America affirms that by saying, “Children sense the anxiety and tension in adults around them… Unlike adults, however, children have little experience to help them place their current situation into perspective.” Sometimes this means you have to fake it and put up a brave front so that your child will have the self-assurance to face a feared or difficult situation. Your show of confidence will provide him with much needed support in these circumstances.
Good routines and strategies take a little bit of time to get used to, but once they are in place your child will feel more comfortable and secure. Just remember that everyone has mild forms of anxiety. However, normal anxiety becomes a problem when a child’s level of distress impacts their quality of life. If you’re not sure whether or not your child is too anxious or may have an anxiety disorder, read Is Your Child Too Anxious? to find out what are some of the red flags you should look for.
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