Managing Anxiety in Children and Adolescents
Anxiety can be helpful in that it can motivate us to avoid threats and keep safe. It isn’t always this helpful though. There are times when anxiety can interfere with our relationships, schooling/work and life goals. Luckily, there are a number of things we can do to manage anxiety.
If your child or adolescent experiences anxiety, here are a few things you can do to support them:
· It’s important for kids to feel that you understand and respect their feelings. Criticism is unlikely to be helpful. Instead, validate their feelings (e.g. “I can see you’re anxious”, “those thoughts seem scary, if I had hem I would be anxious too”). Self-disclosure can be helpful also (e.g. I used to/still feel anxious about…).
· Remind your child of a time in the past when they were brave. Encourage them to act in the same way again (because they can).
· Find your child a brave role model. This can be a brave movie/TV character that your child respects. Alternatively, try to model bravery yourself by doing something your child fears.
Exercise & Mindfulness
· Exercise is a great way for kids (and adults) to lessen stress and anxiety. Mindfulness can help too, and can be practised for free on phone apps like ‘Headspace’ and 'Smiling Mind'.
· Help your child see their anxiety as something outside themselves. Ask your child what the “worry wasp” or “nervous Ned” is making them anxious about, for example. “My OCD is telling me to wash my hands again, but I don’t have to listen” is another example of externalising. Externalising helps kids see their anxiety as an opponent to be overcome, rather than a boss that needs to be obeyed.
· Kids develop confidence by facing their fears. This can be done gradually. A child afraid of heights may, for example, stand at the bottom of a tall building and look up. Then, when they feel ready, they may get in the elevator and go one level up. They then repeat this process until they’re able to get to the top of the building. This process of ‘graded exposure’ can be applied to many of the things your child is afraid of.
· Coping statements can help kids get through periods of anxiety. Examples include: “I can do this”, “this feeling will pass”, “thoughts aren’t facts”, “feelings aren’t facts”, “I’ll deal with the problem if it happens”.
· Sometimes specialists are needed to treat anxiety. Consider referring to a psychologist if your child or adolescent struggles to manage anxiety on their own.