How to Help your Child Manage Fears and Anxiety

There seems to be a rise in anxiety in children and young adults. According to the Center for Disease Control about 4.4 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with anxiety. This number is up from 5.5% in 2003 to 6.4% in 2011-2012. There are many contributing factors to the rise in childhood anxiety. Social media and the “Like Culture,” higher expectations put on them at school, practice with active shooter drills are some of the reasons cited by The Washington Post.

Anxiety can present itself in a variety of ways in children. According to the Anxiety Disorder Association of America children can lose their appetite, be irritable, have low self esteem, be sad or cry, have a loss of energy, have difficulty sleeping or concentrating, or not want to participate with friends or activities.

Anxiety in children is not uncommon and according to a Yale University study, research suggests that family accommodation plays a role in childhood anxiety because it does not allow children to face their fears. It means that when a child feels afraid or anxious about something and a parent consistently makes changes to accommodate the child without trying to address the fear, it could be feeding their anxiety. 

The Yale University study focused on treating the parents and giving them the tools and language to help an anxious child. The researchers in this study believe that when parents consistently provide accommodations to an anxious child, the message they are sending is that the child can’t do it on their own. They never learn the tools or get the confidence to cope, which can create bigger problems later on in life.

Fear and anxiety are complex and vary from one child to another. According to Child Mind Institute, “anxiety is the most common emotional problem in children.” When helping an anxious child, you may need to try several things before you figure out what will work for your child and family. If you are unable to come up with solutions on your own, don’t be afraid to seek professional help to give you and your child healthy coping mechanisms.

Here are some things to consider when helping your child manage fears and anxiety:

Validate their feelings It is important to value that what your child is experiencing is very real. Try to validate their feelings without poking fun at the situation. At times, it may seem that making light of the situation will help your child, but it is important to validate their feelings. 

Help them learn how to cope When your child is faced with a fear, do you jump in to save them or do you help them come up with solutions on how to overcome the fear? At some point, you will not be there to rescue them and that could cause even more anxiety in your child. If something is repeatedly coming up, consider sitting down with your child to discuss possible solutions. Then the next time it comes up, have the child try one of the solutions. Keep trying until you find something that works. 

Sometimes you need to push and sometimes you need to pull back This isn’t always cut and dry. You may need to try things out to see what is going to work for your child. If you feel something is too much for your child, pull back. But if there isn’t any progress being made, you may need to push a little further. Every child, family, and situation is different. Be patient and consistent. 

Be vulnerable with your child Children love when adults share their own experiences. Give your child examples of when you were afraid of something and how you overcame it. 

Most importantly, if your child is anxious, it’s important to know that you aren’t alone. Seek help when you need it. Reach out to family, friends, teachers, and medical professionals. There is also an abundance of resources available to help children and families. The Child Mind Institute is a great place to start. 

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