Anxiety can cause a lot of worry for parents, but the best way to help a child who is anxious is to provide connection and support while teaching them healthy ways to cope. Some children may benefit from a therapist, while others might just need to learn coping techniques. Some may also need medication, but it is important to talk to your pediatrician before introducing any new medications to your child.
Children tend to be fearful of things that adults don’t find threatening, which can lead to a sense of helplessness and general anxiety. Children can also be afraid of situations or objects that are not life-threatening, but if they are constantly told to stop being afraid or made fun of for being afraid, they will become more anxious over time. Instead, it is important to take children’s fears seriously, encourage them to talk about their feelings, and help them face their fears gradually, at their own pace.
It is also important to teach children that they can control some of their anxieties. If a child is worried that it will rain and cancel their baseball practice, for example, it would be helpful to help them come up with solutions, such as practicing in the backyard. For children who are worried that they will fail a test, it is useful to help them find ways to study and prepare for the exam so they have the tools they need to succeed.
Another way to help children manage their anxiety is to teach them how to practice breathing exercises. This will help them calm their body when they feel overwhelmed or anxious, and it can be done at any time, anywhere, even while sitting in the car or lying down in bed. The best part is that it only takes a few seconds to do and doesn’t require any equipment or special skills.
In addition, it is helpful to let kids see how you handle your own anxiety. Kids are very perceptive and will pick up on any negative messages you might send them about your own stress and anxiety, such as saying that it is not okay to feel that way or telling them to “just get over it.” If you can show your kids that you can successfully manage your own anxiety, it will be a lot easier for them to do the same.
If your child’s anxiety is severe or interferes with daily functioning, it is a good idea to see your pediatrician, who can recommend a therapist. While many kids will only need therapy to improve their anxiety, some may need a combination of medication and therapy to overcome it. This article was written by Naline Lai, MD, and John Grove, LCSW, of the CHOP Healthy Minds Healthy Kids Program.