How To Deal With Anxiety In A Child Without Freaking Out
Anxious kids are not easy to deal with… no one wants to really say this out loud, but it’s true. I know, I’ve been there. The key to not losing your sanity is to learn how to deal with anxiety in a child such that your sanity is part of the solution – it’s not just a treatment plan for little Johnny or little Rebecca.
Anxious kids are part of our culture now. And like adults, their worries run from the mild to the extreme, requiring treatment, skill building, and some general toughening up all around. The people who love your kids, teach your kids and befriend your kids will all interact with their anxiety. So it’s wise to have a well-rounded game plan that gives your kid has his or her best shot in the world.
On one hand, it’s clear with all the attention paid to anxiety in the media, anxiety is all around us. Long gone are the days where only one kid in a classroom had anxiety. Think about that for a second. According to the CDC, 11% of kids have ADHD, of which a common co-occurring challenge is anxiety. Further, across the US, 18% of the population has been diagnosed with some form of anxiety, making it the most common mental health issue in existence.
With these kinds of symptoms and realities all around us, what’s the best steps for you as a parent?
Here Are 6 Strategies For How To Deal With Anxiety In A Child That Actually Work:
1. Start with acceptance.
You cannot wish this away. Anxious kids are a part of our lives and if your kid is one of them, you’re in good company. Chances are as your child makes friends, joins sports teams or school clubs, enrolls in extracurricular activities or even interacts with peers in the classroom, you will meet other kids like your own. You can take some comfort in knowing that there are other parents like you struggling to deal with the challenges anxiety brings. When you befriend these parents, look for common ground, there you’ll often find compassion and connection.
2. Help your child find a friend group.
Consider making efforts to help your kid(s) interact with other kids like them so they feel less isolated or alone. Kids who are unaware of the prevalence of anxiety amongst their peers often feel very alone. You can help your child interact and make friends by finding the other families in your social circle who are dealing with the same kind of challenges and reaching out to schedule play-dates, family outings or even backyard BBQs. Social support is a well-known salve for anxiety.
These families can also lead you to other out-of-school activities the kids can grow into as they mature. By having a friend on the team, they’ll have a “comrade in arms” to help cut through the inner dialogue anxious kids often have around things like “what’s wrong with me” or “I’m so strange/weird or different.”
3. Embrace similar families to bolster support and reduce stigma.
By befriending families like this, you not only help your kid, you help yourself as well. Seeing other families with similar challenges can help reduce the added variable of “we’re strange” or “no one else’s kids act like this” or “what’s wrong with us?” By putting real mirrors of other families dealing with the same struggles in your life, you give yourself a reality check that can prove quite valuable if your child’s anxiety causes you to feel shame or embarrassment.
4. Remember your kids are kids.
They don’t know how to deal with their fears in the way an adult would, so helping them make sense of their anxiety requires skill building. Not all anxiety is the same, and kids need to learn what role their anxiety is playing in their lives. It’s possible to reframe your child’s awareness around anxiety into something more useful than never-ending worries or fears.
In my book Hack Your Anxiety I propose that like athletes, those of us who struggle with anxiety could well learn how to use it to our advantage. Such a big part of how to deal with anxiety in a child comes down to how you see anxiety and what meaning you assign to it. If you help your child see anxiety as a tool to use for their own good, they can learn to master it and use it for their benefit.
5. Empower kids to identify and label various forms of anxiety.
It’s also important to teach kids about the different kinds of anxiety so they can begin to learn the skill of self-monitoring, which ultimately leads to self-regulation. Research consistently documents the coping benefits of labeling emotions. Again, kids don’t know this stuff, and as a parent we are in a great position to teach, and model it (this is also covered in my book and free mini e-course – you can register by signing up for book bonuses here). By labeling the different kinds of anxiety, kids learn to master their emotions. Naming them, tames them. It’s not a turn-key experience, but with support, kids and adults can practice naming their anxiety so they better know what to do with it as it arises.
6. Prioritize self-care.
If your anger or anxiety is growing alongside your child’s, it may be time to do some work on your own so you learn to keep things in perspective. Slow down when you need to, and be gentle with yourself. Kids, and young kids in particular, model what they see. By becoming a watchful observer of your own struggles, you can start to see how your worries may add gasoline to your child’s fire.
Kids benefit from calm parents in tense moments. From the screeching of tires in a near miss accident, to a poor grade in school or a frustrating outburst on the soccer field, when parents can meet their child’s feelings with a calm, rational response, kids do not get the added nudge from Mom or Dad to stay anxious. If this isn’t possible, make sure to own your own feelings so your child understands you have feelings too.
When all else fails, go back to #1. Anxiety for many people is a part of life. There are many treatment strategies, and they all take time, education and practice to make work. And remember, if you’re dealing with an anxious kid, you’re not alone. Share your observations with your partner/spouse, your child’s teacher and friends. Chances are, they all see it too. This is where that old adage of “it takes a village to raise a child” comes into play.
The good news is, we have really well-qualified villages today. If you have shared your worries with those closest to your child to no result, you may want to explore other options. Anxiety will not go away merely by wishing it was so. Learning how to deal with anxiety in a child takes work. But, with support, your kid will learn that he or she is not alone, that their anxiety is a tool they can use to make their lives run well and most important, that Mom and Dad loved them enough to walk though this scary time together.
If you have questions about how to deal with anxiety in your kid, please check out my book Hack Your Anxiety or post a comment here for further discussion.
I like your recommendation to find other families who are dealing with similar challenges to schedule play-dates and outings. My wife is pregnant with our first baby boy. If he struggles with anxiety, I imagine we may also try family therapy or something like that.