In this, the final part of our three-part series on childhood anxiety, Guest Contributor and Family Therapist, Lindsay Simmons shares how you can help your child should they be suffering from anxiety.
Normalize the Anxiety
Let your child know that they are not the only one who feels this way. Experiencing feelings of anxiety is common among children and teens – recent studies suggest that roughly 20% of children and youth in Canada are living with anxiety, or another mental health issue. By helping your child to understand that their feelings are “normal”, you give your child permission to talk about them open and honestly. Many kids and teens don’t tell their parents about how they are feeling, because they don’t understand what’s happening, or they are afraid of being judged. By reinforcing to your child that they are not alone in these feelings, you give your child the courage to talk about what is bothering them.
Don’t Reassure Your Child
It seems like the natural thing to do – your child is worried, so you want to tell them that everything is ok, and they have nothing to fear. The problem with doing this is that it shuts down communication. Your child ends up feeling as though they are not understood, which makes them feel even more alone in their fears. Additionally, talking about a fear can help to diminish it. When you rush to reassure your child, you inadvertently deny them the opportunity to talk it down. Instead, let your child know that you love them and you are here for them.
Teach Your Child Relaxation Skills
When children and teens experience anxiety, they need help calming themselves down before they can think and focus. The goal of learning relaxation skills is to help your child take their mind off of their worries, so make sure to engage your child’s mind. For example, encourage your child to take deep breaths, but count to 5 (in their mind) for each inhale and exhale. This will give their mind something else to focus on, plus the increased oxygen will help them focus.
Give Your Child Some Dedicated Worry Time
Imagine your child’s worries are all kept in a cup. The less you release the worries – the fuller the cup becomes. However, if you give your child permission to worry about whatever they want, for 10-15 minutes a day – you will allow them to empty out their cup. The key to making this work, is dedication. No phones, people or distraction are allowed at worry time – it’s just you, your child and their worries. Make sure to let your child know that when worry time is done, they have to stop focusing on their worries – which should be easier since they have had time to empty their cup.
Don’t Allow Your Child to Avoid Their Fears
Let’s say your child has an intense fear of dogs, and during a walk home you encounter a person walking their dog. Your child’s anxiety will tell them to cross the street, or turn around or do whatever is needed to get away from that dog! But by allowing them to avoid the dog – you are inadvertently sending them the message that dogs are scary and should be avoided. Instead, offer loving, gentle support to child as they get closer to the dog.
Talk to a Therapist
Make sure your therapist is trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), as this has been proven as the most effective long-term treatment for people with anxiety. A therapist trained in CBT can give your child insight into their anxiety as well as give them tools to use to control their anxiety. Your child will learn how to recognize negative thoughts and replace them positive coping strategies. The added benefit of CBT is that it is relatively short-term (approximately 12 weeks), but the benefits have been proven to last for years.
If you are interested in learning more about how to support your child with anxiety, please connect with Lindsaytoday for more information via a free 15-minute phone consultation.