It’s common for children to have fears and worries or occasionally feel sad and hopeless. If these feelings persist, it could be due to anxiety or depression. Mindpath Health’s Zishan Khan, MD, discusses effective strategies for parents to support children with anxiety, fostering resilience and emotional well-being.
Parenting is a journey filled with joys and challenges, and one challenge many parents face today is helping their children manage anxiety. Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues in children, affecting about 7% of youth aged 3-17, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Anxiety disorders can affect a child’s overall well-being and daily functioning, and understanding how to support your child can make a difference in their ability to cope and thrive. We explore effective strategies and techniques parents can employ to help children navigate anxiety, fostering resilience and emotional well-being.
Paying close attention to your child’s behavior and tendencies is crucial for identifying potential anxiety. Anxiety can manifest in different ways, some include:
- Chest pain
- Decreased appetite or eating more than development
- Difficulty concentrating
- Excessive crying
- Excessive worry
- Irritability, bursts of anger, or isolated tantrums
- Overly clingy behavior
Parents should acknowledge their concerns and create a safe and open environment when these arise. How parents address their child’s anxiety can affect how children cope. Fostering a sense of trust and stability empowers your child to manage their anxiety effectively. Ways parents can help children with anxiety:
- Practice active listening and validate the child’s emotions. Listen actively to your child’s fears and worries without judgment or interruption. Let them express and validate their feelings, showing empathy and understanding. If you are able, express your anxious concerns and fears. This helps your child know it is okay to feel this way.
- Teach coping mechanisms. Introduce relaxation techniques as an effective method to help your child manage anxiety. Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery can effectively calm their mind and body during anxious moments. Practice these techniques together and encourage your child to use them independently when needed.
- Establish predictable routines. Children thrive on predictability; it creates a sense of stability and security. Establish set routines for daily activities like mealtimes, homework, and bedtime. Include them in conversations when attending a new event or adding to their schedule. Explain who will be there, why it is being added, etc. Having a structured schedule provides a sense of control for children with anxiety.
- Be realistic with your child. Providing assurances that your child will perform well on upcoming tests or presentations may seem loving and encouraging. However, this can cause children to question things further and develop self-doubt if things turn out poorly. Instead, tell them that no matter their grade or performance, you will be proud since they prepared well. Tell your child that sometimes, when we feel nervous, we mess up. Discussing their thoughts and fears can help your child manage anxiety.
- Limit exposure to potential stress-inducing environments. Identify and limit exposure to situations that could trigger your child’s anxiety. This can include reduced screen time, a quiet homework environment, or limited exposure to news or media that could overwhelm your child.
- Promote a healthy lifestyle. Encourage children to exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, and set a routine to improve sleep hygiene. Physical well-being is crucial in managing anxiety, reducing stress, and promoting overall well-being.
- Encourage your child to engage in social activities. Support your child in building positive friendships and relationships. Encourage them to participate in sports, clubs, or groups that align with their interest and spend time with friends.
- Foster a supportive school environment. Partner with your child’s school and communicate with teachers and counselors about your child’s anxiety. Share strategies that work well at home. Encourage the school to accommodate extra support and breaks during stressful situations or designate a safe space for your child to sit when needed.
If you suspect your child has anxiety or needs professional help, talk with their primary care physician or a mental health professional, such as a child psychiatrist. Together, they can provide expert guidance, individualized strategies, and therapeutic interventions tailored to your child’s needs, like medication management or therapy.
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