Have you got a child who is frequently off school with headaches or a sore stomach?
Sometimes there are underlying issues to recurrent illnesses, and it’s important to know if anxiety is causing your child’s symptoms.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is our body’s way of preparing us for a challenge when faced with stress, by releasing a hormone called adrenaline. This causes a “fight or flight” response so that we are alert and ready to react to the challenge.
If you think your child’s anxiety is getting in the way of their day to day life, slowing down their development, or having a significant effect on their schooling or relationships, it is best to try and help them tackle it.
1. The goal isn’t to eliminate anxiety, but to help a child manage it
Help them learn to tolerate their anxiety and function as well as they can, even when they’re anxious. As a by-product, the anxiety will decrease or fall away over time.
2. Don’t avoid things just because they make a child anxious
Helping children avoid the things they are afraid of will make them feel better in the short term, but it reinforces the anxiety over the long run. If a child in an uncomfortable situation gets upset and starts to cry, and her parents whisk her out of there or remove the thing she’s afraid of, she’s learned that coping mechanism, and that cycle has the potential to repeat itself.
3. Express positive—but realistic—expectations
You can’t promise a child that her fears are unrealistic—that she won’t fail a test, that she’ll have fun ice skating, or that another child won’t laugh at her during show-and-tell. But you can express confidence that she’s going to be okay, she will be able to manage it, and that as she faces her fears, the anxiety level will drop over time.
4. Respect her feelings, but don’t empower them
It’s important to understand that validation doesn’t always mean agreement. You want to listen and be empathetic, help her understand what she’s anxious about, and encourage her to feel that she can face her fears. The message you want to send is, “I know you’re scared, and that’s okay, and I’m here, and I’m going to help you get through this.”
5. Don’t ask leading questions
Encourage your child to talk about her feelings, but try not to ask leading questions— “Are you anxious about the big test? Are you worried about the science fair?” To avoid feeding the cycle of anxiety, just ask open-ended questions: “How are you feeling about the science fair?”
6. Try to keep the anticipatory period short
When we’re afraid of something, the hardest time is really before we do it. So try to eliminate or reduce the anticipatory period. If a child is nervous about going to a doctor’s appointment, you don’t want to launch into a discussion about it two hours before you go; that’s likely to get your child more keyed up.
7. Try to model healthy ways of handling anxiety
Don’t pretend that you don’t have stress and anxiety, but let kids hear or see you managing it calmly, and feeling good about getting through it.
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