Children and Anxiety: 8 Ways Parents Can Help
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Every kid worries now and then, but some children are constantly anxious. The two types of anxiety that are most common with kids are fears of specific things, like social situations or leaving their parents, and generalized anxiety disorder, which is persistent worrying about everyday life.
Worrying is not only hard mentally, but it also has its physical side effects as well. Anxious children often get headaches or stomachaches and can have trouble falling asleep. Some children with anxiety may cry a lot or withdraw from other people - even family members at times.
Dr. Sucheta Connolly, director of the Pediatric Stress and Anxiety Disorders Clinic at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says some children are in and out of the hospital because of persistent medical problems, while their doctors can't seem to figure out why. Often, this is because anxiety is the real culprit and can be much harder to diagnose.
“Maybe your child has a fear of going on airplanes and the family’s going on a trip,” she says. “Your child will do everything she can to avoid the trip and make it difficult for the family to go.” This sometimes manifests itself in the form of physical symptoms as your child's body reacts to the stress.
So how can you help your anxious child cope? Here are some expert strategies to practice with your child during some down time so that you'll both know how to handle the anxiety, the next time is comes on:
Think it Through
Anxious children have difficulty thinking logically when they’re nervous. When your child worries, Connolly says, teach her to identify her thoughts. Have her look for evidence that her fear is realistic and help her to talk through her worries. Then, have your child think about what happened the last time she was in a similar situation. Did everything end up being ok? What less-frightening things might happen this time and how likely is the worse-case scenario?
Imagine a “Worry Bully”
Dr. Dawn Huebner, author of "What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety," suggests children think of their fears as something outside of themselves. It's helpful to imagine that these fears are a “worry bully." When your child is anxious, have her tell the bully to leave her alone. This will also help her to feel like she has more control of her feelings and her worries.
Take “Worry Time”
Kids can’t turn their fears off, but they can set them aside. Huebner recommends children imagine a “worry box.” When your child is scared, tell her to put her fear in her mental worry box. Take 15 minutes of “worry time” every day when she opens the box for the two of you to talk about what’s worrying her. Two daily worry times might be needed at first. Putting her worries is another way for your child to feel like she has more control over her worries and will eventually help her to work through them when she's feeling anxious.