Whether your child has been diagnosed with anxiety or simply struggles occasionally with feelings of fear and worry, there are steps you can take to help. These strategies will help your child learn to manage their anxieties, rather than let them control them.
Don’t avoid things that make your child anxious. Avoiding a situation because it makes your child uncomfortable will only reinforce their fears over time. If, for example, a child is afraid of dogs, and their parents react by whisking them away from the dog, the fear will only increase. Likewise, children who refuse to go to their friend’s birthday party because they are afraid of strangers will feel anxious all the time and become even more reluctant to engage in social situations.
When your child is feeling anxious, talk to them about how they are feeling. While it is important to validate your child’s feelings, it is also important to teach them that they can face their fears. Be careful not to ask leading questions that can provide your child with new worries, such as asking them what they are nervous about before the first day of school. Instead, use open-ended questions like “Are you nervous about being around other kids?” or “How are you feeling about the new teacher?”
Teach your child grounding techniques such as counting to ten, focusing on breathing and visualizing peaceful images. Practice these skills with your child regularly so that they are able to use them when they start to feel overwhelmed.
Encourage your child to connect with their “happy place”. A happy place is a special spot or memory that brings them comfort and security. It could be their bedroom, a favourite place in nature, or somewhere they’ve been on vacation. Encourage them to bring a memento from this place with them when they are feeling anxious.
Help your child develop a sleep routine that is relaxing. Establishing a regular schedule, avoiding exercise close to bedtime and limiting exposure to bright lights before sleep can help your child relax. Having a sleep plan in place will also help your child know what to expect when they are ready to go to bed.
If your child’s anxiety is causing significant distress and is interfering with their ability to function, speak to your GP or a mental health professional. They may be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist for talk therapy or medication. You can find more information on speaking to a GP, finding a therapist and accessing CAMHS in our guide to getting help for anxiety.