Anxiety disorders can be hard to deal with as an adult, but when your child is diagnosed with one, it can be quite scary. Anxiety symptoms are becoming more and more common in school-aged children, recorded in 10-20% of students and 18% of the general population. While it can take some effort on your part, anxiety disorders in children are both treatable and manageable. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few tips and tricks to help you learn what to do if your child has an anxiety disorder.
What Are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorder is a broad term that refers to a variety of different mental illnesses, including but not limited to:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Various phobias
While the cause of an anxiety disorder can vary from person to person, most professionals generally state that it is caused by a combination of environmental and biological factors. Since each type of anxiety has its own symptoms and treatment plans, it’s important to start by getting a proper diagnosis. From there, the tips and tricks that we’ve gathered can help you supplement and be an active part of your child’s healing and anxiety management.
One Important Thing to Remember
One of the most important things for you to remember when helping your child deal with an anxiety disorder is these two words: Don’t panic. Anxiety, at its core, is fear. If your child is experiencing an anxiety attack or anxious episode, your own fear or panic will only serve to make your child’s fear worse. Take a step back, help your child, and then, once the situation is handled, address your own feelings about the situation. You will both end up benefiting in the long run.
Don’t Dismiss Your Child’s Fears
It’s far too easy to dismiss someone else’s fear. If your child expresses fear, saying something like “You’ve got nothing to be afraid of” can have devastating effects. Instead of saying something dismissive like “You shouldn’t be afraid,” try acknowledging the fear and seeing how you can help with a response similar to “I see that something is bothering you. Would you like to talk about it?” That opens up those important lines of communication and can help you help your child manage the anxiety.
Encourage Your Child to Face His or Her Fears
Growing up, you were probably told that it’s important to face your fears. This tip may not apply in all cases — and it’s important to discuss something like this with your child’s doctor first — but encouraging your child to face his or her fears, through exposure therapy or other techniques, can be a great way to overcome anxiety. Additionally, it’s a good way to teach your child that anxiety can only last for a short time because the body doesn’t like to be anxious. Help your child face those fears, and soon those fears will become a thing of the past.
Don’t Enforce Perfection
This desire to be the perfect child or the perfect student can contribute to your child’s stress and anxiety disorder. Instead of focusing on failures or berating children because he or she is not perfect, focus on the positive things. Take the “glass-half-full” approach. An 85 might not be an A on the grading scale, but an 85 to a kid with social anxiety or school avoidance is a fantastic accomplishment that deserves celebration. Keep that glass half-full, and you might benefit as well.
Be a Role Model
Children definitely embody the old phrase “monkey see, monkey do,” so it’s important that you model and practice any behaviors that you may want your child to learn. This includes self-care, positive thinking, and relaxing behaviors. Telling an anxious child to do something that you’re not willing to do yourself — even if it’s something as simple as taking a few deep breaths — can often serve to make them more anxious.
Instead, just sit down with them and say, “Let’s take a few deep breaths together,” and walk them through the exercise. This is a great way to teach self-soothing techniques that a child can use at home, at school, or otherwise alone.
Sleep Is Important
Sleep is important. If sleep or falling asleep is a problem due to anxiety, a good evening routine can help. By setting up a bedtime routine and sticking to it, you help create a sense of stability around bedtime, which makes anxious children more comfortable and more likely to fall asleep with ease. It can be as simple as a 45-minute routine that includes a soothing bath, brushing teeth, and being tucked in by Mom and Dad, or as elaborate as it needs to be.
Reward and Be Rewarded
We all know that positive reinforcement is one of the most effective behavioral training methods. When helping a child with anxiety, this becomes doubly important. Not only does rewarding brave behavior or overcoming a fear help to reinforce the good that the child is doing for him or herself, but it’s also a great way to create a very strong bond between child and parent. It teaches your child that no matter what happens, you’re the person to turn to.
Even though anxiety is becoming more common, it is not unmanageable. Between the tips we’ve gathered and the numerous techniques you will likely learn from your child’s behavioral health professional, these fears can become something to overcome rather than something that overwhelms. Just being there — being a shoulder to cry on or your child’s rock to hide behind — is the most important and amazing thing you can do for a little one with anxiety. Everything else is secondary.
Contributed by Jennifer Landis: Jennifer is a writer, blogger, foodie, yogi, runner, and mama. She loves drinking tea, deadlifts, and dark chocolate. You can find more from Jennifer at her blog, Mindfulness Mama, or on Twitter @JenniferELandis.