Childhood anxiety is on the rise and many parents are searching for ways to help their children cope. In their efforts to help kids feel better, well-meaning parents often make things worse.
The causes of childhood anxiety are diverse, ranging from school bullying and academic pressure, through to global warming and terrorism. It’s a parent’s instinct when their child is suffering to try to protect them. This isn’t always possible, or desirable, when it comes to anxiety.
Worry and stress are an unavoidable part of life. You can’t protect your child from everything but you can equip them with the skills to cope so they don’t become overwhelmed and crippled by fear. This often involves facing the very things they’re afraid of.
These tips can help parents and kids manage anxiety.
1. Teach resilience, not avoidance
Avoiding anxiety-inducing situations is a short-term fix that only reinforces fear in the long-term. Kids will learn that the way to cope with anxiety is to run away.
Instead of giving your child permission to avoid things they find stressful, express empathy for their feelings while encouraging them gently to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway.’ This is the tried-and-true way of overcoming anxiety.
Facing difficult situations is usually enough to show children that their fears were blown out of proportion, equipping them with greater confidence and resilience. In cases of sustained bullying and threats to a child’s mental health, it may be necessary to remove kids from the situation altogether.
2. Be honest and supportive
You can’t promise your child that all their fears will not come to pass. At some point in life, everyone has to deal with failure, loss and embarrassment. Rather than trying to shield your child from life’s harsher realities, tell them that you believe in them and have confidence they’ll be fine.
Help them understand that it’s not weak to feel afraid, and you’ll be there to support them. Avoid asking children leading questions about their worries as this can feed negativity. Just allow them to talk about how they’re feeling and make sure your body language and tone of voice aren’t reinforcing fears.
It can sometimes help to talk through the different scenarios your child is worried about and come up with coping strategies.
3. Allow time for play
Studies have found that the time children spend in free play has declined significantly in recent decades, leading to greater anxiety and depression. The main reason for this is that parents are scheduling more activities in what was previously leisure time, limiting opportunities for unstructured play.
Psychologists believe self-directed activities are crucial for healthy development, and kids are missing out on valuable life skills. Negotiating the world through their own imaginary games gives kids a sense of control and mastery of themselves and their environment, laying the foundation for good mental health. Problem-solving skills and creative thinking are also powerful antidotes to anxiety.
Try these strategies to help your anxious child overcome their fears.