Anxiety is the shadow that follows you around, day or night. It can strike with even the slightest of triggers. Debilitating for most adults, but downright mortifying for children suffering from the condition, who often react to their heightened emotions through screaming, crying, and temper tantrums.
However, instead of avoiding the object or place of fear-which only serves to strengthen the condition-parents can choose from one or more of the following methods to help soothe their anxious child, and provide them with the tools for self-management in the long run:
1-Respect but Don’t Reinforce:
Acknowledge your child’s fears, because to them, nothing is scarier than what they are facing right then. Be as calm, soothing, and supportive as possible. But instead of ingraining a negative coping mechanism through avoidance, help them build a tolerance to the things, people, or places that make the anxious.
The best way is to desensitize them to the triggers through gradual exposure. You can start by helping them think about their object of fear, then slowly work up to watching and eventually doing the feared activity.
2-Lead by Example:
Help your children manage their anxiety by showing them how you would cope in such a situation. For instance, you may stand up straighter, or start whistling when faced with something your child fears. Also, try not to complain about work and daily life stress to others in front of your child.
Moreover, although you may be anxious about how your child will react in a fearful situation, letting it show through protective gestures like coming in front or tensing up only reinforces their negative beliefs.
Teach your child that although the bad things won’t stop, their anxiety will drop over time as they learn to manage it. Also, allow the same opportunities to your anxious child as you would your other children, like going to birthday parties, and parks.
You may have to progress at a slower pace and allow some accommodations, but don’t over- or under-accommodate. For instance, start with smaller scale events with fewer triggers, like loud music, crowds, etc. instead of forcing them to bigger events or avoiding them altogether.
4-Think Before You Speak:
Anticipation is often worse than the thing itself. So instead of building up their anxiety by talking about a possible anxiety-inducing situation, like an exam or hospital visit, hours beforehand, talk about what’s necessary on the way there.
Also, try rephrasing your leading questions from ‘Are you worried about today’s exam?’ to ‘How do you feel about today’s exam?’. This will minimize the anticipatory anxiety and encourage them to talk about and possibly reduce their fears.
5-The Worry Box:
Some children find it difficult to admit their fears, even in front of their parents. So, as a way of encouraging your child to talk about the things that make them anxious, you can designate an old tissue or shoe box, where the child posts their worries and concerns every day. Sort through the box on the weekend and discuss those concerns together with your child.
Alternatively, children can also write down the day’s stressors every night, read them aloud to you, then tear up the paper. This symbolizes that the concern has been let go of or dealt with.
6-Animate the Fear:
Alter the classic imaginary friend by helping your child bring their worries to life through a character of their own design. This personification of their anxious thoughts and emotions takes some of the fear out of an otherwise debilitating condition, while also making it easier for the child to understand and better manage their overwhelming physical reactions during an anxiety episode.
7-Upgrade the Coping Arsenal:
Practice an emergency protocol with your child that they can summon up during an anxiety attack to help them calm down. These may include:
- Deep breathing while thinking of different colors and matching something positive to each color to regain focus.
- Talking back to their fears (this works better when thinking of the ‘anxiety monster’)
- Progressive muscle relaxation to release physical stress.
- Stress balls
Helping your child cope with anxiety can be mentally and physically draining for you too. Remember to regularly set apart some time for personal stress relief, and consider consulting a specialist to help you and your child understand and overcome the dynamics of their condition.
You can also book an appointment with a top Psychiatrist in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3250-0444 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your child’s mental health concerns.