How to Deal with an Anxious Child

Posted on: 28.08.2017.

Author: Ana G

No parent ever wants to see his or her child suffer. Most would do anything to ease their child's pain or discomfort. And any parent of a child with anxiety would certainly go above and beyond to ensure that their child is okay.

 

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If your child is feeling anxious, even the most mildly uncomfortable situation can seem genuinely scary and threatening. As a parent of an anxious child, you can feel frustrated and helpless. Fortunately, there are ways you can help your child cope with anxiety.

 

Understanding anxiety

The first step is to understand exactly what anxiety is. Anxiety is a natural reaction to stressors. Whenever we feel threatened or perceive danger, it triggers a sense of alarm. The body and mind react with physical sensations, including dizziness, rapid heartbeat, shakiness or sweaty hands, and difficulty breathing. These reactions are called the fight or flight response and are caused by an adrenaline rush and stress hormones. Although they are unpleasant, they prepare the body to make a "flight" away from danger.

 

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Most of the time, anxious children worry about what might happen. They may worry about things going wrong or being in some kind of danger - even if worrying about those things is unrealistic.

Anxiety is a normal part of childhood, and every child experiences anxiety at one point or another, typically in phases. Phases are temporary and often harmless, but when children suffer from an anxiety disorder, it is much more severe. They experience fear, shyness, nervousness, and avoid activities and places as a result of their disorder.

Your child may feel lonely or guilty for not living up to their perceived expectations of their parents, friends, and teachers. They often feel very insecure, and may even miss school and activities due to their racing thoughts of worry.

Although it is typical for children to feel anxious or concerned, sometimes it can become a problem. Young children sometimes fear loud noises and being away from their family or pets. Older children often worry about what others think of them. Clearly, none of these things are entirely avoidable, so figuring out ways to cope is necessary.

 

How to help an anxious child

Although signs of anxiety are often obvious and shown as fear or worry, these can also be disguised as anger or irritability. Physical symptoms, such as sleeping trouble, fatigue, headaches and stomachaches can also accompany anxiety. Sometimes children keep their worrying to themselves, and as a result, symptoms and signs are missed. So it's important to pay close attention to how your child acts.

 

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It's normal to feel helpless and to be unsure of what to do, and sometimes it can be difficult to stay calm and be patient when your child becomes stuck in their worrying. Here are some tips you can use to help your child cope with their anxiety in healthy ways.

 

1. Putting the worry into words

Encouraging your child to talk about their feelings is one way to help. Children feel comfort in knowing that they have the freedom to express their emotions. You may need to encourage your child to use more detail when describing how they feel, and you can do that by using prompts such as "what happened before that?" or "what happened after that?". Don't hesitate to ask them how they feel about anything that you suspect may be upsetting them.

 

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Asking these questions and talking to your child will help you to understand their experiences better, and it may provide a sense of clarity for your child too. When kids use words to communicate their emotions, they are essentially connecting their right brain's emotions and memories with the logic and language of their left brain. This connection can help your child to make sense of their anxiety, even when he or she is feeling anxious and worried.

If your child is not old enough, you can also create a "worry character" for your child. Creating a worry character will personify the worry, which can make the anxiety less scary for your child. Sometimes they can identify with a character that also faces anxiety.

 

2. Don’t rationalize, empathize

Avoid trying to rationalize with your anxious child. Telling them to stop worrying because there isn't anything to worry about will not help them.

When a child is experiencing anxiety, there is a fast flow of chemicals and mental transitions present in the body, serving as survival mechanisms. The prefrontal cortex - the most logical part of the brain - is put on hold, as the emotional part of the brain is in full control. This is why it is so difficult for your child to think clearly and logically. Sometimes he or she may not even be able to complete basic tasks due to anxiety.

 

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Your child desperately needs to feel safe. The way you speak and your body language can help comfort them. Be as calm and comforting as you can be - responding in another way will not help your vulnerable child.

 

3. Know that avoiding situations that cause anxiety will make it worse

Avoiding situations that can cause anxiety will not help. In fact, it'll just make everything worse. Anxious children sometimes want to avoid social events, school, and other situations. Your first instinct might be to allow them to avoid what's worrying them. However, all that really does is reinforce the worries.

Instead, your child needs to learn how to confront theses situations and manage their anxiety. Sometimes a small reward may help them face his or her fears. Another method is to slowly take steps toward whatever is scaring them. By taking things one step at a time can really make a difference.

 

4. Teach your child relaxation techniques

Teaching your children mindfulness can help divert their perceptions from their thoughts to their senses. As a result, emotional reactions immediately diminish. Being mindful can have an unbelievable impact on their bodies, and it can help protect against stress and anxiety.

Deep breathing is also an effective method because it slows down the body's natural responses to stress. It can slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and make a child feel in control.

 

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Another great relaxation technique is muscle relaxation. It involves tensing and relaxing the muscle groups in the body. Exercise, listening to music, meditation, and cuddling with a pet are also good techniques for easing anxiety.

 

When to seek help

Anxious children can often live their lives without a diagnosis. Some parents assume that their child will grow out of it, or they think that it's a normal, typical part of being a child. Although this is somewhat true in certain circumstances, if your child's anxiety is worrying you, it's best to seek help immediately.

Analyze your child's behavior to judge whether their anxiety is impacting their ability to accomplish things. If it is, it may be a serious problem that needs immediate help. Children may have problems with school attendance and completing homework assignments. They might also withdraw themselves socially.

 

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There are many things that can trigger anxiety, but it can also occur without an obvious trigger. Whenever anxiety occurs, regardless of the cause, it is necessary to decide what to do about it.

You can ask your child's pediatrician or a guidance counselor for a referral to a psychologist or clinical services. Once an evaluation is scheduled, it's important to approach it with the same attitude you would have when taking your child to the doctor.

 

Conclusion

Anxiety is never an easy thing for a child to cope with, and it's never easy for parents, either. However, there are many ways to make it easier. Whatever methods you choose to help your child deal with anxiety; there will undoubtedly be something that makes your child feel better. However, if you feel truly helpless, seeking professional help is the best thing you can do.