How to Handle Anxiety in Children
It is an unfortunate but very real fact that stress and anxiety in children is a common problem in today’s fast-paced, high-tech, activity-packed society. If your child is experiencing stress and anxiety, try these simple but effective ways to help them manage their fear, worry, and upset.1
Don’t Dismiss Their Feelings
Telling your child not to worry about their fears may only make them feel like they’re doing something wrong by feeling anxious. Let them know it’s okay to feel bad about something and encourage them to share their emotions and thoughts.
You know how enormously comforting it can be just to have someone listen when something’s bothering you. Do the same thing for your child. If they don’t feel like talking, let them know you are there for them. Just be by their side and remind them that you love them and support them.
Offer Comfort and Distraction
Try to do something they enjoy, like playing a favorite game or cuddling in your lap and having you read to them, just as you did when they were younger. When the chips are down, even a 10-year-old will appreciate a good dose of parent TLC.
Get Them Outside
Exercise can boost mood, so get them moving. Even if it’s just for a walk around the block, fresh air and physical activity may be just what they need to lift their spirits and give them a new perspective on things.
Stick to Routines
Balance out any emotional distress or changes in their life by trying to maintain as much of a regular routine as possible. Also, try to stick to their regular bedtime and mealtimes, too.
Keep Your Child Healthy
Make sure they’re eating right and getting enough sleep. Not getting enough rest and eating non-nutritious meals at regular intervals can contribute to your child’s stress. If they feel good, they’ll be better equipped to work through whatever is bothering them.
Soccer, karate, baseball, music lessons, and playdates—the list of extracurricular activities kids can take on is endless. But too many activities (and putting too much pressure on your child to participate and/or succeed) can easily lead to stress and anxiety in children.2 Just as grownups need some downtime after work and on weekends, children also need some quiet time alone to decompress.
Limit Exposure to Upsetting News
If your child sees or hears upsetting images or accounts of natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis or sees disturbing accounts of violence or terrorism on the news, talk to your child about what’s going on. Talking about their fears can help.3
Reassure them that they and the people they love are not in danger. Talk about the aid that people who are victims of disasters or violence receive from humanitarian groups. Discuss ways they may help, such as working with their school to raise money for the victims or writing a blog.
Consult a Counselor or Your Pediatrician
If you suspect that a change in the family such as a new sibling, a move, divorce, or death of a family member is behind your child’s stress and anxiety, seek advice from an expert such as your child’s school counselor, your pediatrician, or a child therapist. They can suggest ways to help a child talk about death, for instance, or help them through any other shift in the family.
It’s time to get help from a mental health professional if your child’s anxiety is causing them distress and/or interfering with their everyday life. Effective treatment options include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), medication, and parent-based treatment, such as supportive parenting for anxious childhood emotions (SPACE).3
Set a Calm Example
You can set the tone for how stress and anxiety in children and adults are handled in your house. It’s virtually impossible to block out stress from our lives in today’s high-tech, 24-hour-news-cycle world, but you can do something about how you handle your own anxiety. Research shows that parents who model positive coping skills help their children learn more effective coping strategies for anxiety as well.4
Turn off the TV, play some soothing music, and try some relaxing yoga poses and other stress-relieving strategies. The more you are able to keep things calm and peaceful at home, the less likely it is that anxiety in children will be a problem in your household.
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