Steps to Help Children Manage Anxiety

The way we typically address anxiety is by focusing on what we are anxious about and then trying to get rid of the unpleasant symptoms and feelings. In light of uncertainty being an inevitable condition of life, certain mental health professionals are advocating for preventative steps in which you focus on the worry process itself, build skills, and embrace the unknown. This approach can be especially useful in helping children manage anxiety.

The first step in helping your anxious child is to provide psychoeducation on what anxiety is and how it impacts the body and thoughts. This conversation can look like the following:

“Anxiety looks overwhelming. It may lead to diarrhea, vomiting, screaming, temper tantrums, hives, headaches, biting, and kicking. Once you move away from all of anxiety’s drama, it is simple. It does the same thing over and over again. Anxiety in a nutshell is ‘blah blah blah’ and you can’t handle it. ‘Blah blah blah’ refers to all the different worries that you may experience. Worry shows up in the form of thoughts followed by the belief of ‘you can’t handle it’. Worry wants to convince you that you can’t step forward, that avoidance, safety and certainty are your best options. This is why worry and I don’t get along because I see your strengths and creativity.”

  1. Expect to Worry

Begin to normalize the worrying process for your child. Of course you are going to worry. Things going wrong are a normal part of growing and living. Worry will appear whenever you try something new. It will also appear when you have managed to get through an awful or traumatic experience, and you are triggered because what is happening now reminds you of what happened in the past. The goal is to not get rid of the natural process of worry, but rather to change how you respond to it. Roll the eyes at worry! Demote worry to a normal aspect of growing.

  1. Talk to Your Worry

Some professionals encourage both parents and their children to create a relationship with their worry part by giving it a name. Also, give permission for the child to tell the parent when the parent’s worry part is in charge. “Hey, Mom (worry name) is in charge.” This approach enables you to interrupt the parental worry pattern impacting the child. Focus on how worry works (as described above), and when worry emerges, model and assist your child in talking back to the worry, perhaps saying: “That sounds like worry to me.”

  1. Be Unsure/Uncomfortable on Purpose

Embrace uncertainty. Encourage your child to purposely step into uncertain and uncomfortable situations and handle them so as to retrain their brains. It is helpful to perceive and manage physical symptoms through a different lens. If you stop telling your alarm center that there is danger, it will learn on its own not to push the danger button. Children keep on entering uncomfortable situations not to prevent worry from showing up, but rather to become comfortable facing worry. Empower your children with statements such as: “I’m willing to feel uncomfortable” and “I’m willing to be brave and do what needs to be done”.

  1. Breathe

Teach your children simple breathing exercises to reboot their brains (getting their prefrontal cortex, the thinking part of the brain, back online). Relaxation exercises help with understanding the connection between the mind and body. They also help the child develop mastery and flexibility with the inevitable ups and downs of life. On behalf of the parents, you will need to be able to grow tolerance in dealing with the uncertainty of this work. Parents can practice relaxation exercises and being calm when their child escalates. This will help parents cultivate a warm, supportive, and loving presence.

  1. Bridge Back to Your Successes

Anxious children and parents will tend to forget their successes. For example, an anxious child was able to get on the bus yesterday for school, but the following day(s), the child claims an inability to do so. Help your child understand the common learning pattern we all share. Our brains learn from experiences. When something is new, we start out not knowing and feeling uncomfortable. Connect your child with some past challenges or uncertain situations that they handled. You can give an example of your own and then ask them: “What past challenge(s) or uncertain things have you handled?” or “What can you do now that you couldn’t a few months (or years) ago?”

  1. Take Action

Lastly, create a written plan between you and your child on what to do when worry shows up. Emphasizing problem solving, focusing on the worry process vs. the content, and embracing uncertainty, can help your anxious child succeed.

Contact

Dr. Ermshar & Associates
Pasadena - San Marino Location
2400 Mission Street
San Marino, CA 91108
Office Phone: (626) 421-7201
Dr. Ermshar Direct: (626) 405-0521
Fax: (626) 405-0523
aermshar@drermshar.com
www.drermshar.com

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