Trying to raise a child in this hectic world is no easy task, and even the best of parents can get frustrated when faced with the unique challenges it presents. To further complicate things, it is quite common for children to experience bouts of low self-esteem, doubt, worry and even intense anxiety when faced with different challenges that life throws at them.
Sometimes, even things that seem fairly small and insignificant to the parent can trigger anxiety in a child, which can negatively affect different aspects of their life – e.g. anything form not being able to socialize properly with other kids or getting bad grades, to not eating right and losing sleep.
There is a right and a wrong way to deal with these types of situations, and depending on what you do, your child may slowly get better or have their anxieties take an even greater hold on them. If your child suffers from anxiety, be sure to try out these proven approaches.
1. Make them feel safe instead of telling them that everything is fine
Telling someone that things are fine and that everything’s going to be OK may very well cause them to feel even more anxious about the whole issue, and probably a little irritated by your half-hearted attempts to calm them down. But you don’t have to use any words at all, just let your actions speak.
If you know the root of your child’s problem, then take steps to resolve the issue – e.g. if cyber-bullying is a concern, you can give your child advice and help them tighten up their privacy and security settings on social media.
2. Perform some breathing exercises with them when you sense anxiety coming on
Anxiety attacks can creep up on you and build up momentum as the mind focuses more and more on worries, and the heart rate starts skyrocketing. It’s easy to get overexcited and have that uneasy feeling of dread overcome you when your entire body is on high alert.
The simplest, and one of the most effective ways of bringing your mind down from DEFCON 1 to a more relaxed state, is through slow breathing exercises.
Even just five minutes of slow breathing can calm the mind enough for the logical part of the brain to take over.
3. Try to sympathize with your child and understand where they are coming from
It’s not always easy to understand why another person finds something upsetting or why someone gets stressed out over seemingly easy to fix things, particularly if there is a big age difference between you and said person.
However, instead of just blurting out, “I don’t understand why you are getting so upset”, you can take a moment to try and put yourself in the child’s shoes. Take a very stressful moment from your own life and imagine being in that state of fear.
Only once you have adopted the right frame of mind should you approach your child and let them know that you understand that they are afraid, and that it is perfectly fine to feel that way from time to time.
4. Engage their imagination and take their mind off their worries for a moment
Letting your child know that it is safe to share how they feel and helping them calm down through breathing exercises is a good start, but it is important to take their mind away from the issue that is causing their anxiety if you want to break the self-perpetuating cycle of worry.
As long as they are focused on that single problem, they won’t be able to think rationally. Have your child accompany you on a mental journey to an interesting and relaxing location. Let him or her tell you about their ideal relaxing environment in some detail, and focus on the things that make the child feel safe and at ease – e.g. snow, ponies, sunshine, etc.
5. Explain the nature of anxiety and fear to your child from a scientific point of view
Children are incredibly receptive to logical explanations, and they love to learn about how things work. Of course, you need to learn a little bit about the psychological and biochemical side of things in order to effectively explain anxiety to your child.
It’s a good idea to get acquainted with how things look like from the perspective of a person with anxiety so that you can relate better, but focus on the science to make it seem less mysterious and to help them understand more clearly.
6. Let your child know that you will be there for him or her when they need help
Now, anxiety doesn’t simply go away after you’ve calmed your child down and talked to them a couple of times – it will keep coming back when triggered by stressful events. This is why it is important to create an atmosphere of trust.
Your child has to know that he or she can talk to you about this sort of thing without you dismissing them, making light of their problems or getting angry because you don’t know how to help them.
Just knowing that they have someone they can talk to, someone that can help them push through anything without being overbearing or judgmental, will make a huge difference in how a child deals with their problems.
7. Teach your child to use logic
While having a shoulder to cry on is a great safety net, a child also needs to be able to take control of their emotions all on his or her own. There will be times when they might use breathing and imagination, as mentioned above, to weather the emotional storm, but it is also very important to have a way of dealing with anxiety as soon as you sense it rearing its ugly head.
The logical approach works well once a child has calmed down a bit using various methods, and it basically comes down to throwing intelligent retorts in the face of your negative inner voice.
A negative thought may pass your mind, as something like, “All the other kids are cooler than me and don’t know how to talk to them”, would be met with, “Even the most popular kids make mistakes all the time, and even have people laugh at them, but everyone forgets about it quite soon”, and, “Just the other day I told a joke and a bunch of kids laughed and said I was funny, and I talked to Joanne and Tim about swimming in the ocean.”
8. Take the child out of his or her comfort zone gradually
If you only try to deal with anxiety whenever the child is having a panic attack, you’ll help them momentarily, but you won’t resolve the underlying issues or make any serious progress. Living with anxiety is like being in a constant state of dread and sadness, with emotional spikes that can be triggered by events, memories or words.
You need to find these triggers and learn what and why certain things make the child anxious. It is usually the fear of failure, fear of being mocked, fear of the unknown, and the perceived inability to change one’s circumstances all mixed into an ugly cocktail that causes a child a lot of problems.
When the child slowly starts facing their fears and learning to operate in situations they find uncomfortable, some of those fears will start to go away. Help your child get out of their comfort zone and develop the skills, coping mechanisms and mental tools that will allow them to perform under stress, and gradually stop feeling anxious about things that once used to make them freeze and hyperventilate.
These tactics have been proven to work quite well for helping children effectively deal with anxiety, both when it comes to calming them down when sensing an oncoming panic attack, and slowly getting rid of such feelings over time.
You’ll need to be patient and understanding, but you can make great progress with this kind of approach.