Written by Regine Galanti
As I’ve previously discussed here , worry is a normal part of life, and anxiety is quite common among children.
As a parent, this scenario might sound familiar:
Little Johnny is afraid of spiders. One day he is playing nicely in the park, when all of a sudden he sees a spider! Playtime takes a turn for the worst, and Johnny turns anxious and angry, yelling that you need to take him home NOW. No, he cannot wait until his little sister has her turn on the swing! He clings to you nervously. You try reason, “aren’t you bigger than the spider?” but he doesn’t seem to hear you. Reassurance, “I’m sure it won’t bite you, you’ll be fine,” doesn’t work either. What do you do? How do you handle it?
Here are some techniques that can help you better manage an anxious child:
- Help your child face their fears.
This tip may seem counter-intuitive. When facing anxiety, both adults and children have a very natural impulse to run away as fast as they can. Though this is an effective short-term solution – it gets you away from the source of your fears – it doesn’t allow your child to recognize that the situation is actually not harmful. Remaining in a fearful situation allows the worry to dissipate, and teaches the child that their fears were out of proportion to the threat. In the example above, the parent could take Johnny gently by the hand and watch the spider together, observing it and commenting on its behavior.
- Modeling matters!
Children tend to look to the adults in their lives to figure out the best way to respond to various behaviors. If a parent reacts to a spider with tremendous anxiety, it teaches their children that spiders are dangerous. Watch your own reaction to different situations, and think about how it looks to your children! If you model facing your fears, your children will too.
- Avoid reassurance.
As a parent, your initial impulse may be to tell your child that everything will be okay. This strategy may backfire when trying to help children cope with anxiety. Instead, empathize with them that it’s natural to feel worried, and let them know that you’ll help them through their feelings so that they can successfully beat their fears.
- Praise and reward your child for facing tough situations.
Be liberal with praise – even if a child knows that their fear is irrational, it’s difficult to face your fears. Any small step in the right direction should be encouraged. Sticker charts can be useful for setting up reward systems for “Being Brave” and facing fears.
Finally, if you need some extra help with your child’s worries, anxiety can be successfully treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy helps children see that their fears are excessive, and helps children overcome their fears by focusing on specific irrational thoughts and behaviors.