Anxious feelings are fed by anxious thinking. It is important not to dismiss children’s anxious feelings, but to help children see that the situations they are worried about may not be as bad as they think.
As early intervention is important, take note of children’s worries so that their difficulties can be addressed sooner rather than later.
Here’s eight ways to help children with anxiety
Parents and carers can help by supporting children to understand and express their feelings and seek help when needed.
Encourage children to problem solve and have a go so that they gradually build up their confidence by taking on small challenges.
1. Help to recognise and understand anxiety
A first step in helping children gain some control over anxiety is recognising when it occurs and how it affects them.
2. Model helpful coping
Being a good model involves showing children how to cope with emotions (not just telling them). Show children how you cope positively with feeling anxious or stressed and remaining calm and positive (eg. “This looks a bit scary, but I’ll give it a go”).
3. Discourage avoidance
Try to limit excessive avoidance and reassurance-seeking behaviours. Sometimes when children say they feel sick, they are describing feeling anxious. It is important that children do not avoid things like school or homework unnecessarily.
4. Praise having a go
Encourage children with anxiety to attempt new things and praise them for trying. It is very important to emphasise trying rather than success, particularly when anxiety is an area of difficulty.
5. Introduce challenges gradually
Children build strength and resilience by learning to face challenges. It is important to begin with small challenges that children can meet. For example, a child who is frightened of dogs might start by walking past the house when the dog is barking without having to cross the road. This improves confidence for taking on more challenging steps.
6. Start small
Help the child to choose goals for becoming braver and to take small steps towards achieving them. Celebrate his or her success at each step. Experiencing even small successes helps to reduce anxiety.
7. Practise coping skills
Practise using coping strategies for challenging situations. Help children talk about problems and support them to come up with possible solutions. Avoid taking over as this stops children from learning how to cope themselves.
8. Try not to get angry
If a child simply refuses to do something even after you have encouraged him/her and broken the task into steps, it may simply be overwhelming at that time. Sometimes, it helps to back off and praise the child for doing as much as he or she could. Later, try again with smaller steps and encourage your child to have a go, one small step at a time.