Childhood anxiety is a common challenge that parents confront. Every one of us suffers from anxiety at some point; it’s a natural reaction to frightening or stressful situations. Anxiety becomes a problem, for adults and children, when it is irrational, excessive, and persistent. The sad reality is that at least one in eight children suffer from problem anxiety, and girls are more likely than boys to be affected.
Children with anxiety tend to be clingy, shy, complain of stomachaches, and have trouble sleeping in their own beds. Because of their difficulty in managing emotions, they can be impulsive, and lack social skills.
Anxiety is the most common mental health problem for children, although it is often undiagnosed. That’s unfortunate, since there are many effective treatments and, if untreated, anxiety can stifle a child’s social development, impact their success in school, and lead to drug or alcohol abuse.
The bottom line is that anxiety doesn’t just go away on its own – and it can cripple your child’s success for life.
Fortunately, parents can be very effective advocates in recognizing and treating the problem. If you would describe your child as either more shy or worried than other children their age, it may be time to act. Following are some of the things you can do to help your child beat anxiety:
- Look to your own anxiety. If you or your spouse have anxiety, your child is much more likely to develop it too. Researchers believe the reason is a combination of a genetic predisposition to anxiety and anxiety-induced behaviors in childrearing. In one study, parents with social anxiety were more critical, less warm, and more likely to doubt their children’s abilities than parents without anxiety. If your child sees you using positive coping skills to reduce your own anxiety, they will feel less stigmatized and more able to make improvements in their own life.
- Don’t accommodate your child’s fears.Children with anxiety are likely to seek constant reassurance from parents and other adults. It’s a natural reaction to want to calm your child’s fears. You may be inclined to change your family’s activities to reduce their concerns. The problem is that the more your child learns to avoid anxiety-triggering situations, the less they have to confront their fears. This may be the hardest part of your job, but if you allow your child to use positive coping skills as you gradually introduce them to situations that make them anxious, they can learn to overcome their anxiety.
- Make anxiety the villain.Your child knows they have different fears than other children and likely feel shame because of that. It’s important that they realize that they are not their anxiety. Talking about anxiety will help them realize that it’s not a unique and personal flaw. Encourage them to see it as a separate entity, even give it a name that you all can use. Make anxiety the villain that your family, teachers, caregivers, and friends can help your child fight.
- Give your child tools.Your child will feel less victimized if they have tools to fight their anxiety. Teaching relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, even mindfulness meditation (quietly observing their feelings in the moment) can help them rescue themselves. A great resource for teaching mindfulness and yoga in a playful way is Yoga Pretzels.
- Work with a child therapist.If your child’s anxiety resists your efforts at relief, a counselor can help. Play therapists use creative approaches to address your child’s fears and build positive coping skills in a way that is fun and interactive.
Even with a counselor involved, you will remain an important part of your child’s recovery. Children learn best when led by example. Good parents often attend their children’s needs before looking out for themselves. Great parents model self-care to their children. A calm parent that is attuned to their child’s needs can join them in winning the battle with anxiety.
If your child is struggling with anxiety, consider working with a Play Therapist. LaunchPad is a counseling practice in Richmond, VA, that helps children use their inner resources to overcome stressful circumstances. You can Contact Us to find out more or easily Schedule an appointment online.