How To Help Your Kids Deal With Their Anxiety
Decades ago, if kids showed signs of anxiety, they were told to shape up, focus and move on. Symptoms were dismissed; feelings were suppressed. Thankfully, we know better now. And more importantly, parents are empowered to help their kids at home.
Learning how to help kids with anxiety can be a confusing and daunting task. An important thing to keep in mind is that getting help dealing with anxiety doesn’t mean that you’ll encourage them to “get over it” or that you’ll “cure” them. What it does mean is that you’ll help them learn to work through their anxieties when they encounter triggers.
6 At-Home Strategies For Helping Kids With Anxiety
Try these six strategies with your kids at home when you need help dealing with anxiety.
1. Redirect anxieties into present reality
Anxieties can take on epic proportions. A child could have severe anxiety about eating lunch in the cafeteria. To that child, this simple act could feel like an extremely risky opportunity to make mistakes for everyone to see. The “what if” that could lead to unbearable humiliation is simply not worth the risk.
In situations like these, help your child focus on present realities. Ask your child if he or she is presently safe and secure. (Yes.) Is there someone trustworthy, such as a friend, teacher or another adult, present? (Usually, yes.) Has your child’s worst fear ever come true? (Generally, no.) What concrete steps can your child take to reinforce the present reality in the situation? (Stick with a friend, repeat a mantra, breathe deeply.)
Helping your child learn to focus on the present will gradually lessen the “what if’s” enormous weight.
2. Role model
Chances are, you deal with your share of anxiety and stress. Ongoing projects at work, looming deadlines, raising kids and managing a household cause a lot of stress and anxiety. Use these experiences as opportunities to model effective coping techniques.
For example, if you are overwhelmed with work responsibilities, model how you stay organized and manage your time by using a calendar, planner or checklist. If something makes you want to fly off the handle, let your child see you practice deep breathing to calm yourself. These are excellent opportunities for your children to see coping techniques at work.
3. Climb the ladder
Experts agree that avoiding triggers of anxiety can actually worsen anxiety overall. So, instead of helping your child avoid the cafeteria or the school bus, help your child approach it a little bit at a time. This is what’s known as “graded exposure” or the “step-ladder approach.”
To take the step-ladder approach, choose one situation that causes your child the least amount of anxiety. Approach that situation in “chunks,” so that your child can practice interacting with surrounding people and things and learn to cope with associated feelings. Then, take on another chunk and another. Gradually approach more difficult situations, and encourage your child as he or she masters essential skills.
Ultimately, children will learn to face challenges and trust in their own abilities to manage their anxieties.
4. Stop and FEEL
Renee Jain, owner and founder of GoZen!, which helps parents and kids manage anxiety, says that anxieties can be so heavy, that kids simply can’t hear their parents’ logical reassurance that they can overcome their anxiety. Logic is generally not effective.
Jain says to practice the FEEL method, which will help you meet your child amid their worries and lead them out of it.
FEEL works like this:
- Freeze: Stop and breathe with your child.
- Empathize: Relate to your child’s feelings.
- Evaluate: Figure out a solution to overcome the anxiety.
- Let go: Surrender any parental guilt. You’re doing your best!
5. Enforce an appropriate bedtime
Enough sleep is paramount to your child’s overall health. If your child is exhausted, anxieties and stress will skyrocket.
Make sure your young child gets to bed early. If necessary, get blackout curtains, ask older siblings to work quietly upstairs or move activity to a different area and keep household electronics low.
Even though teens generally tolerate a later bedtime, be sure that they are getting enough sleep, too. Enforce rules that personal electronics must be turned off and set outside their rooms by a certain time. Quiet the house after they are in bed.
Kids who struggle with anxiety will have a better chance of managing their anxieties when they are well-rested.
6. Create a balance
These days, we feel a constant sense of urgency to get as much done as fast as possible.
When it comes to our kids, their lives can get over-scheduled and over-pressured, creating an overwhelming anxiety that they have to reach an impossible standard. Set their minds at ease by cultivating a home environment that is reasonably balanced between work and relaxation.
Organize a modest schedule of extracurricular activities. Leave time for routine homework periods, dinner and bedtime. Infuse enjoyable and relaxing activities, such as family dinners, game nights, and hikes. Playing upbeat or pleasant music throughout the day can help create an atmosphere of calm.
Simple strategies like these can reduce stress and build positive, trusting relationships between you and your child.
Turn To Brook Road Academy For Help Dealing With Anxiety
You are your child’s first teacher, the one who lays the foundation. Your child’s school experience makes a big impact on his or her future. When children struggle with anxieties and other challenges, their school experience can be difficult, and so can the road ahead.
Brook Road Academy understands how to cultivate a school environment that allows all students to thrive. We keep class sizes small, take a conversational approach to learning, and help students develop confidence in their unique voices. Teachers don’t talk at students; they model, engage and coach.