Don't avoid anxiety, manage it.
When it comes to childhood anxiety cycles, it's fair to say that we hate to see our children unhappy. But, we may actually be making our children’s anxiety worse by helping them avoid discomfort. The best way to help your child overcome anxiety isn’t to remove the stressors that trigger it. The goal is to respect your child’s feelings without empowering his or her fears – help them learn how to tolerate their anxiety so they can function better – even when they are anxious. As they learn to manage their anxiety – over time it will decrease or even go away.
8 Tips to Help Stop Childhood Anxiety Cycles
Please note that the following tips are not recommended as the sole treatment for a child suffering from anxiety. These tips are offered as tools to help you alleviate the stress that can come with an anxious child. If you are concerned about your child's anxiety, we recommend starting with the free Heads Up Checkup symptom checker. It is important to get your child treated by a behavioral health care professional as soon as possible.
Your goal should not be to get rid of the anxiety altogether, but rather, help your child manage it better.
It is fair to say that as parents, we hate to see our child unhappy. However, the best way to help our child overcome his or her anxiety isn’t to try to remove the stressor that triggers it. Rather, it is to help them learn how to tolerate their anxiety and function better, even when they are anxious. The anxiety will then begin to decrease or go away over time.
Don’t avoid the anxiety-provoking situations or things.
As parents, we tend to fall victim of helping our children avoid things or situations that they may be afraid of. Sure, this obviously makes our child feel better at the moment; however, it ends up harming them in the end. By doing so, our children may learn that their coping mechanism is to avoid or remove the frightful situation or thing.
Express positive, but realistic expectations for your child.
We can’t promise our child that his or her fears are unrealistic. We don’t know if they will get an A on that math test, do well on their piano recital, or like their first day of school. Instead, we can express confidence that despite what happens, he or she will be able to manage it and be okay in the end. By doing so, your helping your child see that your expectations are realistic and you’re not asking him or her to do the unmanageable. In addition, the more your child faces his or her fears, the more likely his or her anxiety level will become less frequent over time.
Respect your child’s feelings.
Any time your child expresses his or her fears, try to listen and be empathetic. It’s important to help your child understand what he or she is anxious about and encourage him or her to face the fearful situation or thing. The goal would be to convey that 1 you know they are scared; 2 that it is okay; 3 you are there for them; 4 and that you will help him or her get through it.
Ask open-ended questions.
It’s important to encourage our child to talk about his or feelings, but we have to be mindful not to ask leading questions. These would sound like “Are you scared about your first day of school?” “Are you worried about that math test?” Open-ended questions are typically best and don’t feed into the cycle of anxiety. These would sound like this: “How do you feel about your math test tomorrow?” “What are you looking forward to about school tomorrow?”
Be mindful of your body language and tone of voice.
Children are far more observant than we sometimes give them credit for. They are pretty good at picking up on our non-verbal behaviors and tone of voice. Even if we are anxious about how our child will respond the next time to a negative experience, we have to try not to send the message that they should be worried in that similar situation.
Keep the anticipatory period short.
The anticipatory period to a stressful event or thing is truly the most difficult period. The goal is to eliminate or reduce it for our child. For instance, if your child is nervous about getting his or vaccines, try not to talk prolong the event by discussing it for a long time, as this will only increase their anxiety.
Think it out.
Anxious children will typically ask what if questions a lot when it comes to their anxiety. You’re probably used to hearing “what if this happens”. It’s helpful to talk to your child about what would happen if their fear came true. It’s important to talk about how he or she will handle it. This gives them a plan and having that plan can help reduce the uncertainty in an effective way.
Be a role model to your child.
It’s important to let your child see how you cope with anxiety yourself can help your child handle his or her anxiety. Let your child hear and see you managing your stress and anxiety calmly and feeling good about getting through it. We’ve mentioned this before and we will say it again; kids are very perceptive. If they see that mommy or daddy is not handling their anxiety or stress in a positive and healthy manner, they will learn that they do not have to either.