Anxiety is increasingly common in today's fast-paced world. Often, we can think of stress and anxiety as things that only adults struggle with - but it's important to be aware that children also suffer from anxiety.
In light of the current world crisis that we find ourselves in, it’s likely that many kids are experiencing increased levels of stress and anxiety - even on a subconscious level.
Read below as our team shares with you five things you can do to help a child who is experiencing anxiety:
Show that you understand, even when you don't.
Kids want to know that they're being heard and understood. It can be scary to feel like grownups just aren't on the same wavelength, so often, showing a child that you understand why they're feeling anxious or upset can help them to feel safe and cared for.
Anxiety is a very vulnerable feeling, and when adults try to dismiss a child’s fears or wave them off as ‘silly’ or ‘overthinking’, it can leave a child feeling alone and under pressure to cope without external help.
By telling a child that you understand how they feel, you're not only validating their feelings, but you're also showing them that they can trust you.
Practise having regular, healthy conversations about emotions.
Emotional regulation for children is important, and it's a skill that many develop at different speeds. Sometimes, an anxious child will struggle even more when they aren't able to communicate why they feel the way they do.
One way to help this can be to practise having open conversations about our feelings and emotions. Encouraging a child to express what's going on inside their head can help them learn to recognise why they're feeling anxious. For example, you might ask, ”Are you feeling sad? Lonely? Scared? Disappointed? Can you think of another time when you felt that way? What did you do to make yourself feel better? Did that help?”
Be proactive and plan ahead for anxious situations.
Having a conversation with your child ahead of time about what the plan is and what a situation might look like can help them to feel calmer and to trust you with their fears.
If you know that a child struggles with sensory overload, or that they're claustrophobic or don't like big crowds, be aware of situations that might exacerbate these stressors. This may not mean avoiding them altogether, but it's a good idea to recognise a potentially anxious situation before it occurs.
If you're heading into a crowded place, try holding their hand, or letting them stand on the outskirts. If something is loud and distracting, bring along a pair of headphones so your child can have something to focus on.
Learn how to ask the right questions.
The power that anxiety has over us is often rooted in fear. The same is true for children. It can be helpful for an anxious child if you ask them questions to truly understand what it is they’re worried about. Once a child is able to identify their fears, it becomes a lot easier to rationalise them together and help think of ways to overcome the anxiety. For example, some good questions to ask are things like:
-Have you been in this situation before? If so, how did it turn out? Were you okay in the end?
-How do you think the other person might be feeling in this situation?
-Do you think what you're afraid of is likely to happen?
Don't force them into an uncomfortable situation.
It's great to encourage our kids to try things outside of their comfort zone, but at the same time, there are often times when pushing them too hard will only make things worse. There's usually a valid reason as to why our child is worried about a particular situation or event - even if they don't know how to articulate that to us.
Sometimes, we need to let go of our idea of how things ‘should be’ and listen to our kids. If they really don't want to go on a play-date, show them that it's okay to say no. If they're refusing to enter a crowded room filled with noise and stimuli, don’t drag them in. It's okay to be encouraging kids to step past their fears, but forcing them to do so might simply cause greater distress or mistrust.
We hope these suggestions are helpful to you and your kids. Our team at Newcastle Speech Pathology work with a whole range of clients, many of whom struggle with anxiety. We’re always looking for ways to help kids and their families feel comfortable and at home with our team.
If you have any questions, further suggestions, or would like some advice on how to help a child cope with anxiety, we'd love to hear from you! Give us a call on 4948 9800 or send us an email at email@example.com.
Written by Madeleine