HELPING KIDS MANAGE ANXIETY
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HELPING KIDS MANAGE ANXIETY
One of the biggest dilemmas for parents to manage is children's anxiety and fears. A parents natural instinct when a child is confronted with a new or difficult situation is to anticipate the child’s fears or to remove them from the stress. This may not be the better option, in the long run, to helping a child grow stronger and more confident in new or changing situations. Keeping in mind that children have different levels of predisposition, personalities and temperaments towards how they handle anxieties. Here are a few suggestions to help children work through their anxieties:
1. Don’t ask leading questions - Always encourage your child to talk about their feelings but avoid asking leading questions immediately. “Are you anxious because ….”. Rather frame the question in a softer way “ How do you feel about ……”
2. Don’t avoid things just because they make a child anxious - Helping a child escape an uncomfortable or new situation may help them in the short term but will teach them to run away from anything that is new or uncomfortable. The best way to help kids overcome anxiety isn’t to try to remove stressors that trigger it. It’s to help them learn to tolerate their anxiety and function as well as they can, even when they’re anxious. This behaviour will help them to try new things and have confidence to solve problems down the line.
3. Express positive, realistic expectations - You can't promise a child that he won't fall when trying to ice skate or ride a bicycle but helping him understand that you will be there to help hold him and pick him up until he can balance is not so difficult and that most children fall until they get used to the activity. Making mistakes while they are learning will help them feel they will be alright and that there is no expectation to get it right the first time. Just expressing the confidence that you won’t ask them to do something they can’t handle, will be a huge help.
4. Listen and respect their feelings but don’t empower them - You don’t want to belittle their very real fears but you shouldn’t amplify them. Listening and showing empathy and then breaking down their actual fears will help you to the next step of helping them face their fears with your help.
5. Encourage the child to tolerate their anxiety - Encourage your child to continue to work on the activity that causes them stress. Let them know that they are doing so well and growing stronger. It will encourage them to engage in life and try new adventures, friends and activities. As children continually have exposure to the stressor, they will be more familiar with the activity and the stress will become less. It may never drop to zero but will be a lot better over time.
6. Keep the anticipation time short
- It’s not a good idea to over discuss an upcoming stressor way ahead of time. Reducing the anticipatory period will be less stress on the child.
7. Think things through with your child
- If someone else will be getting your child from school, chat with them about the time and collection point and perhaps give them a phone number of that person. Giving them backup information eg. if the lift doesn't arrive, tell the coach that your lift hasn’t arrived. Or go back into the school and tell them at the office that your lift hasn’t arrived. These pointers will help give children the necessary solutions as back up.
8. Let's figure it out
- Always remember kids are very perceptive and will learn by watching parents. Set a good example by handling stress step by step and slowly figuring problems out as they arise. Talk them through in front of kids and they will learn the process of figuring problems out as they arise.
Remember, they are tiny so gentle, firm responses peppered with humor, will give children the confidence to surge forward as they grow into new situations and life. Let them make mistakes and learn from them.
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