Helping Children Cope with Anxiety

Growing up has always been filled with challenges. Add school shootings and a constant barrage of social media to the mix, and there’s little wonder why more than four million children today suffer from extensive anxiety. Still, there is plenty of hope and resources to help your kids grow beyond the pain.

At the heart of children’s anxiety
Anxiety in children takes many forms, from hiding and crying to anger and despair. It may even cause physical symptoms such as quickened heart rate, tummy problems, and rapid breathing. Each child reveals his or her anxiety differently. It’s important to learn the cues. While they may seem overly dramatic at times, they’re often simply attempting to maintain a sense of control when their minds and bodies start spinning.

Both inborn and environmental
Experts believe anxiety is hardwired into a child’s DNA, although environment also comes into play. This is not to say it results from bad parenting. On the contrary, most parents go to great lengths to help their children cope with extensive fears and self-doubt, which can make it difficult for them to attend school, participate in sports and extracurricular activities, and interact socially with others.

Fear of making the grade
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), generalized anxiety disorder may cause a child to worry excessively about grades, relationships with family and peers, and more. These kids get stuck trying to meet their own unrealistic levels of perfection, often seeking constant approval from teachers, family and friends. Separation anxiety may also be an issue. This is expected in children aged 18 months to three years old. When it goes beyond this age, fearing something bad will occur to them or their parents while apart can disrupt their day-to-day lives.

Help begins at home
The first step in assisting your child through his or her anxiety is to really listen. The ADAA also recommends the following:

• Pay attention to your child’s feelings.
• Don’t punish mistakes. Your anxious child criticizes himself enough. Praise even small achievements to build self-worth.
• Remain flexible while maintaining a normal routine.
• Stay calm when your child becomes anxious.
• Allow extra time during difficult transitions. Leave a little more time, for instance, in the morning, if getting to school is stressful.

The good news
Your child’s anxiety is often treatable. Find a caring mental health professional. Sometimes talking things out with an unbiased therapist can ease the pain. Empathize with children, desensitize their fears one step at a time. Encourage lots of outdoor exercise and play and help them reframe their anxious thoughts into more positive ones. And remember to breathe. Although the road ahead may be bumpy, this, too, shall probably pass.