5 ways to help an anxious child
Anxious children need special care to become confident and progress socially and academically. Children manifest anxiety in a variety of ways. They may be clingy, cry often or throw tantrums when separated from their parent. They are often very shy and avoid social situations. Worry is their constant companion. Anxiety in children often causes headaches or stomachaches. Here are five ways parents and others can help an anxious child manage their chronic insecurities.
1. Learn about anxiety
Since it is impossible to eliminate anxiety completely, educate yourself and the child about it. Everyone experiences anxiety. It is a normal part of life. It alerts us to threats and helps us reach goals. Anxiety itself is not dangerous even though it is uncomfortable. Our heart beats faster to pump blood to our muscles so we have energy to run away or fight off danger. Feeling anxious about crossing the road or taking a test is normal since anxiety can protect us or help us prepare to perform better. Without anxiety, we would not survive. We all need some anxiety.
2. Accept the anxiety
It is important not to shame a child for the anxiety they feel. That will only make it worse. Listen to them and acknowledge it even if it seems illogical. Direct them to focus on problem-solving. By being aware of what makes the child anxious, you can better prepare them. Help them verbalize the size of their worry from 1 – 10 or draw a picture of it. Communication works best when a child is calm. Prepare them to deal with anxiety whenever it arises. Be consistent and it will pay off as the child overcomes simple challenges.
3. Teach coping skills
Anxiety can come at any time of the day or night. If a child’s activities are curtailed by their anxiety, it becomes a problem. If a child gains the skills needed to tolerate anxiety, they gain confidence and manage their fears. Teach them calming strategies like deep and slow belly breathing. Encourage positive self talk. Teach them social skills so they can respond well to other children and adults. Make a game out of it, role play and practice at home. Help them visualize happy outcomes to situations they may encounter. Teach progressive muscle relaxation or yoga. Physically tense up sets of muscles and then release. Suggest possible solutions to overcome anxieties and let them choose how best to deal with it.
4. Understand a child’s individual needs
Each child is different. Respect and validate the child’s feelings. Give the child an opportunity to tell you how you can best help them. It is difficult to watch children suffer from worry. It is tempting to rush in and rescue a child from a situation that produces anxiety. Talk to them privately about it and praise them publicly. Do not embarrass them in front of others or put them on the spot. Find mentors that are aware of the child’s anxieties to help such as siblings, grandparents, friends and teachers.
5. Celebrate efforts at independence
Encourage a child to try new things. If they show interest in certain areas like art, music, crafts, sports and other activities, it will help keep their mind off their worries. Give appropriate and effective praise whenever they make attempts to overcome their anxiety. Responsive parenting empowers children to learn to manage their reactions and calm themselves. Help them face their fears and be there to cheer them on when they succeed. Create a calm home atmosphere where they feel loved and secure when things do not go as planned. If they backslide, encourage them to keep trying.
Arm yourself with these five ways to help an anxious child as well as these additional parenting tools. Life is meant to be enjoyed and it can be with an understanding of anxiety, accepting their challenges and teaching them how to cope with it.