How to spot and help with anxiety in children

We are living in very interesting times. There is no way to ignore or escape the change to our daily routines. With children, this may cause anxiety and stress. They may be worried about friends, teachers, and what they will have for lunch. And when parents are also facing concerns of their owns, children seem to be especially perceptive.

How will you know if your child is suffering from anxiety?

Every child feels sad from time to time. Toddlers get distressed when they are away from their parents, teens worry about their relationships with peers. When children have anxiety that interferes with their ability to enjoy play activities or social connections it could be a sign that intervention from a mental health specialist is necessary.

Here are the signs to watch for:

  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping or nightmares
  • Frequent stomach aches or other physical complaints

You know your child best, sometimes a child is just tired or fussy, but when you see more than one of these signs frequently, take the time to speak to your child about his or her concerns. Listening to your child talk about their worries and fears is the best way to help.

It might be tempting to fall into a negative cycle, especially if you are cooped up together. Remember that trying to protect or shield your child from bad news or uncomfortable situations isn’t necessarily helpful. Listening to their concerns and questions is the best way to ease anxiety. Answer questions simply and honestly, give them enough of an answer that they understand but not so much that it adds to their anxiety. Your goal as a parent or caregiver is to help your child manage anxious feelings.

Start by asking questions, don’t assume that you know why your child is feeling anxious. It could be something as simple as missing friends and worried about their well-being. It could be that they are worried that you might die because they heard you talking about death.

Try to help your child think through what might happen. What’s the worst that would happen and how would you help your child deal with that? For a child who is anxious about friends, try to help them connect with social media or phone calls. Talk about what would happen if you weren’t around and how you are doing everything you can to stay healthy.

If your child is in an uncomfortable situation or hears something that makes them feel anxious and begins to act out or get upset, your response should be sympathetic and reassuring. For example, if your child doesn’t want to visit the doctor for immunizations, you would want to listen to their fears, and let them know that you’ll be there and everything will be alright.

Your tone of voice and body language can also communicate worry and fear to your child. Remain calm and confident in situations where your child has experienced anxiety. When you feel calm it will help your child to pick up on that feeling and begin to relax a bit. When you know you’ll be heading into a situation that might be stressful for your child, keep the anticipation down to a minimum. Don’t talk about the doctor’s appointment a month away, let them know a few days or hours ahead of time.

There is no perfect thing to say to a child who is anxious. The key is to express calm confidence that you understand why they might be anxious but that it’s going to be okay. “I know you are afraid but I also we will get through this time,” you might say. Over time the anxiety will begin to drop as your child sees that you aren’t asking him or her to manage something they aren’t able to handle.

Help your child learn to tolerate anxiety. Just like someone who speaks or performs in front of audiences, a little anxiety is a good thing. Learning to tolerate and accept that you might feel anxious in some situations is okay and the more you get used to the feeling, the less you’ll feel anxious. Help your child become adjusted to the anxious feeling by doing all of the suggestions above.

Always be aware that how you act in stressful situations will model for your child how they should act. When watching the news or discussing current events around your children, always be prepared to explain that things will eventually be okay. We all have all been through situations that just don’t work out as we had planned but it’s not going to be this way forever. As always, if your child doesn’t seem to be adjusting well, consult a mental health professional for assistance.

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