How to Support an Anxious Child
We all feel anxious sometimes. It is normal and can be a helpful part of life. But, for some kids, anxiety grows to a point where it is no longer helpful. Their anxiety takes over and keeps them from experiencing a fulfilling and enjoyable childhood. When this is the case, children often benefit from adults stepping in to help them gain tools for managing their anxious feelings.
Here are three ways you can support an anxious child:
- Help your child visualize and plan: Often a child’s fear is either not probable or not accurate. It can be scarier, bigger or more catastrophic than what is realistic. Help your child create an accurate picture. Visualize, with your child, what things will physically look like, what will happen step by step, what is expected, and what others will be doing. When kids visit my office for the first time, it can be nerve-wracking. I suggest that parents describe the entire process in advance: the building, the hallway leading to my office, the games and toys in my office, what I look like, my friendly personality, and the fact that parents are welcome to stay in the room until kids are ready for them to leave. Reality is often less scary then what a child imagines.
- Have strategies ready: As an adult, you know what the triggers for your child might be. So, you can plan ahead. Perhaps you know your child gets anxious before a sporting competition. Have some strategies ready such as bringing snacks, playing comforting or uplifting music, offering self-soothing tools, using positive encouragement, or planning a break after the game. When you offer this kind of support for your children, you’re teaching them how to support themselves in the future.
- Be a role model for your kids: Occasionally include your children as you plan strategies to help with anxiety in your own life, so they know they’re not alone in their feelings. For example, you might say, “Wow, I notice I’m a bit worried about my presentation tomorrow. I’m going to imagine myself doing really well. I think I’ll plan a treat for myself after I finish. I know! I’ll walk through the park. That will help calm me down..”. Ask them to join you for self-care activities. Build mindfulness, break time, and fun into family time. Use language to teach kids why this is important. You could say, “Our family is going to have half an hour of no screen relaxation time. We just need to wind down a bit.” Or after a stressful situation you could say, “Wow, our family worked hard. We need to take a break by…”
For more information on anxiety in children, check out the following resources:
Kids learn to notice some fears are not accurate if we pause and pay attention to what is happening. There are notes in the back of the book describing how to use the book with children.
A short chapter book, for older school-aged children, full of information about specific kinds of anxiety. Offers strategies and explanations on how to manage fears. Best for kids with high anxiety.
A great website that offers practical solutions for anyone supporting children. It offers resources including strategies, information, and recommendations for apps and books.
A great website that covers many topics related to child psychology. This article is about supporting an anxious child. Great for both parents and teachers.