6 more ways to help your anxious child
By Michelle Morris
1. Encourage Brave Behaviour
While children are generally not helped when parents demand that they face their fears all at once, they are helped when parents can gently encourage them to approach feared situations. This is because exposure to feared situations leads to desensitization and reduction of the fear and anxiety.
However, approaching feared situations can be difficult for anxious children since they would rather avoid them. One way of helping a child approach a feared situation is to go about it in small steps so that each step is achievable and gradually becomes a little more difficult. Another important strategy for parents is to reward a child for trying to approach a feared situation. A child will also find it helpful to be reminded that the fear will get smaller over time. In addition, children can be reminded of fears and difficult situations that they have overcome in the past.
2. Teach Relaxation Skills
Learning relaxation skills will help children feel better when they are anxious, worried or scared. It will also help them learn that they have some control over their own bodies rather than being controlled by their anxiety.
One way to help your child relax is to encourage slow, deep breathing. You can help your child practice this by getting her to imagine slowly blowing bubbles. Another way to relax is to ask her to alternately tense and relax her muscles. Additionally, some of the soothing and comforting strategies outlined above work very well to relax children.
You can also help your child use his imagination to relax. Help your child to imagine a safe and relaxing place and to notice the good relaxing feelings in his body. Or, have him imagine a container (such as a big box) to put his worries in so they are not running wild in his mind and bothering him when he needs or wants to be doing other things.
3. Encourage “Feeling Good” Activities
When children are anxious, encourage them to engage in activities they enjoy such as playing with a favourite toy, doing a fun art or craft activity, doing something active outside, playing a game, reading a book, or playing with friends. Children will often need the assistance and attention of their parents to engage in these fun activities if they are anxious.
There are many children’s books available that deal specifically with anxiety, fears and worries. These books can be very helpful for children as the stories will often model various ways of coping with fears and anxiety. When searching for books, use keywords such as anxiety, worry, fear, scary, scared, shy, etc.
5. Teach Problem-Solving Strategies
Help your child with their worries and problems by teaching them how to problem-solve by defining the problem, brainstorming all possible solutions and their consequences, and choosing the best solution.
Be aware, however, not to jump in too early to help “fix” your child’s problems. Remember to give your child lots of time to express his negative feelings around worries and problems first where you are just listening and acknowledging feelings before helping him to figure out a solution.
6. Challenge Unhelpful Thoughts
Help your child to understand that the negative and pessimistic things she says to herself about herself are not helpful and can influence how she feels and behaves. For example, thinking (or saying), “I’m so hopeless, I’ll never do it,” can make her feel angry, hopeless, sad and ultimately even more anxious.
By changing the unhelpful thoughts with more helpful and positive thoughts, for example by saying or thinking, “If I keep practicing, I’ll get better,” or “Even if I make a mistake, I can learn and do better the next time,” your child’s anxiety levels will be reduced.
Again, remember to allow your child lots of time to express her negative thoughts around worries and fears first before helping her to figure out more helpful ways of thinking about the situation.
Michelle Morris is the principal psychologist at Life Resolutions Caroline Springs in Victoria. She has over 30 years experience working in private practice and holds several qualifications. In additional to being a registered psychologist, she is a qualified nurse, midwife and holds postgraduate qualifications in law and family therapy. Michelle has a special interest in family relationships. She is passionate in helping family members access skills to manage difficult and challenging times.