(Image: Coping Kit by Karen Wolf)
According to the CDC, 7.1% of children, age 3-17 years, (4.4 million children in the U.S.), have been diagnosed with anxiety. (https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html). And unfortunately, those numbers are on the rise. All children experience fear as a normal part of childhood. But if your child’s worry or fear seem extreme, is difficult to resolve, or interferes with daily life, there may be something more going on. Fortunately, anxiety in children is treatable, and teaming up with a counselor can teach you how you can play a key role to help your child. Here is an introduction to 5 central steps to resolve anxiety in children:
1. Talk about anxiety. Many parents understandably want to cheer their children up or distract them from difficult emotions. Instead, view these times as opportunities to engage in real conversation and teaching moments. Point out that you can tell they are anxious, be curious and invite them to tell you about it. Acknowledge their struggle with simple phrases like, “I get it.” Teach them about anxiety and why we have it. (Learn more about the origins of anxiety – https://theconnectedowl.com/anxiety-a-gift-from-our-ancestors/) Ask them daily, “How was your anxiety today?”
2. Build awareness of physical symptoms. Sweaty palms, rapid breathing / breath holding, tearfulness, tense muscles are just some of the physical signs of anxiety. Point out to your child when you notice these symptoms and help them recognize it in themselves. Use phrases like, “I see your eyes are welling up with tears.” Or ask them “What is happening in your body right now?” Bodily awareness will cue them to know when it’s time to use skills to take control.
3. Build awareness of thought patterns. Anxiety is often reinforced with negative and inaccurate thoughts. Help your child identify and write down negative thoughts, and then come up with several alternative accurate and positive thoughts. For example, the thought “I’m going to die” can be replaced with “I’m safe and sound in my home.” Help your child repeatedly practice saying positive thoughts so they come to mind during anxious moments.
4. Put together a Coping Kit. As a fun project to do with your child, create a special box of coping tools. Your box might include things like a smooth rock, a paper scented with calming oils, worry dolls, or a stress ball. Over time your child can seek out new items to add or take out ones that are not working as well. You can also put that electronic device to good use by installing relaxation apps like Colorfy or Stop, Breathe & Think Kids. Teach them a simple deep breathing technique like this one – breath in for 3 seconds, hold for 3, and breath out for 3 seconds. Write down the steps on an index card and add it to their box. Encourage your child to pick a skill and use it during anxious moment.
5. Face Fears. Of course, parents want to protect their children from fearful situations. But in the case of anxiety, the fear trigger is imagined or based on something from the past. One of the key indicators of anxiety is when your child avoids perceived fears like school or sleeping in their bed, and feeding into that avoidance reinforces inappropriate behaviors. Instead, work with your child to face their fears incrementally, using awareness of their body and thoughts, while applying coping skills. For example, if your child is anxious about sleeping in their bed, start by sitting next them while encouraging them to practice deep breathing and coping skills as they fall asleep. Once they demonstrate they can successfully manage that step, move near the doorway, then into the hallway, and so on. Increase the distance incrementally as they build confidence in their ability to cope. Take your time and allow your child to master each step, which can sometimes take days or weeks. Be patient and congratulate them for movement through each step.
If you are concerned that anxiety it disrupting your family life, we can guide you through a plan of action best suited to your child. Schedule a complimentary consultation at TheConnectedOwl.com. We are here to help.