Tips for Helping an Anxious Child

Tips for Helping your Child with Anxiety

With the Holiday season going full steam, there’s a lot of excitement in the air. While shopping, holiday gatherings, and parties are fun and exciting, all the activity and good times can also be the cause of major anxieties for your child and possible unwanted outbursts and behaviors. Now, before you give yourself an anxiety attack about those possible behaviors, go ahead and give yourself a breather and remember, there are tools available to get you over any bumps in the road you may encounter in the coming weeks that will not only help you now during the holidays, but also in the years to come.

The following are all basic tips in helping you recognize and deal with anxiety.

1)      Recognize what the issue really is: As parents, we all like to think we know what is best for our children because we know them better than they know themselves. But let’s face it, none of us are mind readers, and we must keep a forever watchful eye on our kids. Pay attention to where and when your child is acting out of the ordinary. Are they having behaviors while at the shopping mall, places with large crowds of people, in new or unknown situations? If so, they may be experiencing some anxiety related to those locations or situations. Before you become emotionally overwhelmed by their melt-down, it may be helpful to ask yourself “are they acting out because they are feeling anxious about their situation?” When we can identify a child’s triggers, we can better prepare to help them cope when they get overwhelmed. 

2)      Behavior management is key: Now that we’ve recognized that the meltdown is a symptom of anxiety, we must prepare to deal with it. Believe it or not, there are some very simple behavior management tools that you can learn and then pass onto your child. The simplest is, of course, deep diaphragmatic breathing. Teaching kids to focus on their breath helps them learn that they are in control of managing their feelings. Deep breathing helps bring the autonomic nervous system back into homeostasis (ie., regulates heart rate, blood pressure). Inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, at an even pace, helps to release the tension and allow your child to refocus. Check out this animated GIF, from Quiet Kit Resources,  which teaches you to synchronize your breathing. Another technique is teaching children to tense and relax their muscles. The exercise can be done in tandem with the deep breathing exercises focusing on different groups of muscles at a time (ie., feet, calves, things, belly, face, etc…). If your child is struggling to do the exercises independently, don’t be afraid to do it right along with them. Mirroring the breathing and muscle tensing exercises with the child will assist them in learning to do the exercises on their own. Plus, the exercises may very well calm you down, too. As much as possible (we know it is hard sometimes) respond with empathy when your child is having a melt-down. Acknowledge their emotional state and suggest engaging in a coping tool together.

3)      Make time to worry: Anxiety is a normal human reaction. To one extent or another, we all experience anxious thoughts. The function of anxiety is to solve a problem, but sometimes it can become overwhelming. If you notice your child worries are more frequent or intense than you might typically expect, establishing a set limited time for your child to worry each day may help. Setting up a time for worrying teaches them to monitor their anxious thoughts. One they are aware and monitoring, they are better equipped to implement coping tools to stop them. If they’re able to verbally express to you what they’re worrying about, listen to them, empathize, and then walk them through the breathing or muscle tensing exercises to help them manage the feeling.