Anxiety is a word we often throw around casually, but for many children, it’s more than just nerves – it can be a debilitating fear of something that doesn’t pose a real threat. As parents, understanding and helping our children with anxiety is essential. This article will guide you through the do’s and don’ts of supporting your anxious child, along with valuable insights on managing anxiety effectively.
Anxiety is a common challenge for children, affecting around 9.4% of them between the ages of 3 and 17. As parents, it can be heart-wrenching to watch our little ones struggle with anxiety. But fear not, as we are here to guide you through the do’s and don’ts of helping your children with anxiety. Let’s dive in and discover how you can make a significant difference in their lives.
1. Don’t Reason. Do Grounding Techniques
When your child is in the throes of an anxiety attack, their thoughts can be clouded by fear, making it challenging to reason with them. In such moments, grounding techniques come to the rescue. These techniques divert their attention away from anxiety symptoms and towards something else.
Sour-Sweet Distraction: Encourage your child to suck on a sour-sweet candy, a fantastic grounding technique. This simple action shifts their focus away from anxiety and provides immediate relief.
33×3 Technique: Have your child name three sounds, sights, and smells around them. This exercise engages their senses, pulling them out of their anxious thoughts and into the present moment.
Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy with calming scents like lavender or chamomile can help soothe their anxious mind.
Grounding is not avoidance. It empowers your child to face their fears by redirecting their attention, ultimately building their ability to manage anxiety.
2. Don’t Avoid. Do Support
Naturally, as parents, we want to shield our children from distress. It’s tempting to offer short-term relief by letting them avoid anxiety-inducing situations. However, this might worsen their anxiety in the long run.
Create a Plan: Instead of avoidance, formulate a plan to tackle anxiety-related challenges. Break these challenges into gradual steps, which will help your child confront their fears while feeling supported.
Words of Encouragement: Offer words of encouragement and love. Express your confidence in their abilities. Even small decisions can convey your trust in them. Say, “I know you’re scared, but I’m here with you, and you can get through this.”
Consult Professionals: Seek guidance from psychologists or educators who can provide expert support.
3. Don’t Become Stressed. Do Stay Calm
As a parent, it’s natural to be deeply in tune with your child’s emotions. However, when dealing with their anxiety, your emotional reaction can affect the situation.
Model Calmness: Maintain your composure, especially during anxiety attacks. Your calm demeanour demonstrates managing stress and alleviates your child’s fears.
Enhanced Decision-Making: Staying calm helps you think clearly and make thoughtful decisions to support your child effectively.
4. Don’t Empower Feelings. Do Respect Them
It’s essential to understand that validation does not mean agreement. You can empathize with your child’s fear without endorsing it.
Empathetic Listening: Listen to your child’s fears and assure them that it’s okay to be scared. Let them know you’re there to help them overcome their anxiety.
Phrases that Help: Use phrases like, “I know you’re scared, and that’s okay. I’m here, and I’ll help you get through this.” This reassures your child that they are understood and not alone in their struggle.
5. Don’t Ask Leading Questions. Do Think It Through
Leading questions can perpetuate the anxiety cycle. Instead, encourage open-ended discussions about your child’s feelings.
Open-Ended Questions: Rather than asking, “Are you anxious about failing your test?” inquire about their overall feelings or the source of their anxiety. This approach empowers them to express themselves.
Problem Solving: When your child expresses specific fears, work together to devise solutions. For example, if they fear a stranger picking them up, create a safety plan, like having a secret code for authorized pickups, reducing uncertainty effectively.
6. Don’t Restrict. Do Eat a Balanced Diet
Nutrition plays a significant role in managing anxiety. Certain vitamins and foods can help balance mood and alleviate jitteriness.
Magnesium and Omega-3: These nutrients are excellent for mood stability and reducing nervousness.
Serotonin Production: Serotonin, a key hormone affecting anxiety, is mainly produced and absorbed in the gut. Encourage foods like fish, oats, and dairy to support serotonin absorption.
Exercise: Promote physical activity as it not only mediates anxiety but also boosts serotonin production.
7. Don’t Go With the Flow. Do Establish a Routine
Anxiety often thrives on uncertainty. You can combat this by creating a routine that brings predictability and certainty to your child’s life.
Structured Day: Establish a consistent daily schedule for activities like waking up, meals, playtime, homework, and family time. Predictability makes your child feel safe.
Minimize Anticipatory Anxiety: If your child dreads a specific event, schedule it right after an enjoyable activity to reduce their worry.
Anxiety may never completely disappear, but you can empower your child to manage it effectively. Short-term relief, while tempting, can be counterproductive. Instead, equip your child with grounding techniques, ensure a balanced diet, and guide them in challenging their thoughts. By doing so, you’re providing them with powerful tools to conquer anxiety for life.
Q1: How can I help my child when they’re in the midst of an anxiety attack?
A1: Encourage grounding techniques like sucking on a sour-sweet candy or the 33×3 technique to divert their attention from anxiety.
Q2: Should I let my child avoid anxiety-inducing situations?
A2: Avoidance may offer short-term relief but can worsen anxiety. Instead, create a plan to face anxiety-related challenges with their support gradually.
Q3: How can I maintain my composure when my child is anxious?
A3: Model calmness, as your demeanour affects your child’s anxiety. Stay composed during anxiety attacks and make well-thought-out decisions.
Q4: What’s the difference between validating and empowering my child’s feelings of anxiety?
A4: Validation means acknowledging their feelings without endorsing them. Empathize with their fears and reassure them that it’s okay to be scared.
Q5: How can I encourage open communication about my child’s anxiety?
A5: Avoid leading questions and opt for open-ended discussions. When specific fears arise, work with your child to find solutions and reduce uncertainty.
In conclusion, helping your children with anxiety involves offering the right kind of support, empowering them to face their fears, and providing tools to manage their anxiety effectively. By following these do’s and don’ts, you can make a significant difference in their lives.