Helping Kids With Anxiety
In today's fast-paced world, it's common for kids to experience anxiety. Whether it's academic pressures, social challenges, or the uncertainty of the future, anxiety can affect children of all ages. As parents, caregivers, and educators, it's crucial to recognize the signs of anxiety in kids and provide them with the tools they need to navigate these emotions.
Understanding Childhood Anxiety
Anxiety is a natural response to stress and uncertainty. In small doses, it can be helpful, keeping us alert and ready to face challenges. However, it becomes a concern when anxiety becomes overwhelming and persistent, it can interfere with a child's daily life and overall well-being. There are natural increases in anxiety throughout children (for example, around ages 5 and 9). These increases are usually temporary and may last a few weeks to a few months. Common signs of anxiety in kids include:
avoiding certain situations
physical symptoms like stomachaches or headaches
You can support your child through their anxiety; in fact, they might prefer the extra support from you. It is important to be patient with your child as they navigate anxiety and remember that they need your support, but you don't necessarily need to fix things for them. Children need to learn how to use the tools when they face additional challenges in their lives.
Open Communication is Key
Encouraging open communication is the first step in helping kids manage anxiety. Create an environment where they feel comfortable expressing their feelings without judgment. Listen actively and validate their emotions. Sometimes, just having someone to talk to can alleviate a significant portion of their anxiety.
Tip: If your child struggles to talk about their feelings, have your child pick out a spiral that is only for communication. They will also need to identify a special place they will leave it when they write in it and another for when you respond. When they feel a particular way, they write in it and put it in the special place. When you find it, respond, and put it in the other special place. Just keep it going back and forth to keep lines of communication open.
Teach Coping Strategies
Equipping kids with coping strategies empowers them to manage their anxiety in healthy ways. Breathing exercises, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques can help calm their minds. Encourage them to engage in activities they enjoy, as hobbies can serve as effective stress relievers. Physical activity, spending time in nature, reading, drawing, or even journaling are excellent outlets.
Tip: There are a ton of coping skills you can search online; some of my favorites are the 5 senses technique, bubble blowing, and lying outside looking at the clouds.
Set Realistic Expectations
While it's natural to want the best for our kids, setting unrealistic expectations can inadvertently increase their anxiety. Be mindful of the pressures they might be facing, whether academically or socially. Focus on their efforts rather than just the outcomes, and celebrate their achievements, no matter how small.
Tip: Remember, your child is a young human and has dreams and goals of their own. Push your child to do their best, understanding that their best may not look like your expectations. They will let you know in various ways if you are asking too much of them.
Create a Predictable Routine
A consistent routine can provide a sense of security for anxious kids. Knowing what to expect each day can reduce uncertainty and anxiety. Make sure they are getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in regular physical activity, as these factors significantly influence mental well-being.
Tip: PLAY. Allow your child time for unstructured play with their friends. Unstructured play is necessary for children (and adults) to relieve stress and learn many of the skills they will need in life.
Seek Professional Help When Necessary
If anxiety starts to significantly impact a child's daily life and functioning, seeking professional help is important. A mental health professional or a pediatrician can provide guidance and recommend appropriate interventions, which might include counseling or, in some cases, medication.
Tip: Just because you are a parent doesn't mean you have to know all of the ways to help your child. It is so much easier if you can seek help earlier rather than later.
Lead by Example
Children often learn by observing adults around them. Manage your own stress and anxiety effectively, showing them healthy ways to cope. When they see you facing challenges with resilience, it sets a positive example for them to follow.
Tip: Seek your own counseling if necessary. Your child doesn't need you to be perfect, they need you to be present.
Foster a Supportive School Environment
Educators also play a crucial role in supporting anxious children. Teachers who are attentive to students' emotional needs, promote a safe classroom environment, and incorporate stress-reducing activities can significantly contribute to a child's overall well-being.
Tip: Ask your child's teacher what they think can help and what they are able to incorporate into their classroom. Don't be afraid to advocate (or be anxious and do it anyway) if the teacher isn't doing anything to help.
Remember, anxiety is a normal part of life, but it shouldn't define a child's experiences. With the right support and guidance, kids can develop the skills to manage their anxiety and build resilience, setting them up for a healthier and happier future.