Everyone, no matter their age, feels anxious from time to time when certain stressors occur. Your child might feel anxious about an upcoming test in school or an event where they have to stand up in front of a crowd and perform. If you have an anxiety disorder, you may worry about passing it on to your children or making their anxiety about other things worse. But can you, as a parent, help prevent anxiety in your kids? In this article, we will examine that.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is feeling scared or worried, and it has a combination of symptoms. It is normal for your kids to experience some anxiety, but it can also become a mental health disorder. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders that children and adults can suffer from. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, approximately seven percent of children suffer from anxiety disorders. About one in three teenagers suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the National Institution of Mental Health.
When a child has an anxiety disorder, normal activities can seem more difficult. An anxious kid can have trouble paying attention in school, making friends, and interacting with family. They might withdraw from their social life, get moody over things, or start displaying fear about things that seem like normal activities.
If your kid is struggling with anxiety, there are some things you can do to help them through it. This includes giving them emotional support, helping them find strategies for coping, and seek professional help if they need it.
Helping Your Kids Through Anxiety
When your kid is having an anxiety moment, they might be agitated, worried, or scared. In these moments, try to be there for them and help them calm down. Try some of these strategies:
- Deep breathing.
- Sit with them and give reassurance — talk them through it, hold their hand, or cuddle with them.
- Put on some music that calms them.
Teach Healthy Coping Skills
One of the best ways that you, as a parent, can help your kids with their anxiety is to teach them healthy coping skills to manage the symptoms. By teaching them how to cope with their anxiety, over time, it will become more tolerable to them and has the potential to lessen.
Sometimes, one of the ways that people cope with anxiety is to avoid whatever it is that can trigger the anxiety. While this might give your kids some temporary anxiety relief, it will not help them learn how to cope with the anxiety, and it can help reinforce the anxiety in the long run.
Express Realistic and Positive Expectations
Do not give your child empty promises that whatever they are anxious about will not happen. While you want to reassure them, this is not the best way to do that. If they are concerned about a big test, for example, you might want to tell them that you are sure they will ace the test, but that is not always a realistic reassurance; this could make them begin worrying more, thinking that if they do not ace the test, they might disappoint you. Instead, try assuring them that you know they studied hard and they will be fine no matter what happens.
Respect Feelings Without Empowering Them
Parents can validate their kids’ feelings without agreeing with or empowering them. If your kids are feeling anxious about going to the dentist, listen and be empathetic to them, but encourage your kids to face their fears. Discuss some anti-anxiety techniques they can use during their appointment to help them instead. This may not prevent their anxiety, but it can help them cope.
Avoid Leading Questions
When you can tell that your child is feeling anxious, avoid leading questions. For example, do not ask, “Are you feeling anxious about your play?” Instead, try asking, “How are you feeling about the play tonight?” This gives them a chance to open up to you about their anxiety without making them feel like they have to talk about it.
Avoid Reinforcing Fears
When your child is opening up to you about their fears or anxiety, make sure you try to avoid saying with words or body language that this is something they should be worried about. Instead, try to encourage them. If they are worried about an academic issue, tell them that you see how hard they are working and you appreciate the work they are doing. Remind them that the more they work through their anxiety, the easier it can be for them to get through it.
When someone is feeling anxious about an upcoming event, the anxiety gets worse in the time before doing it. For example, if they are nervous about going to the dentist, try not to discuss it too much beforehand so it will not stress them out too much in anticipation. Do not spring something on them, but try to avoid discussing it too much before.
Model Good Coping Skills
Your kids will learn from you, so if you struggle with anxiety of your own, modeling healthy ways to cope with it is crucial to helping your kids with their own anxiety, whether you decide to try deep breathing, meditation, calming music, an anxiety relief app, medication, or something else. Show your kids that you can manage your anxiety; it can help them see that it is something that is manageable. Also, talk to your kids about your anxiety so they can see that you understand what they are going through.
About the Author
Auz Burger is a freelance writer and an expert in mental health. She has a BA from Washington State University and has been writing and editing professionally for over a decade.