When we imagine childhood, often thoughts of being carefree and happy flash across our minds. We hope for the same things for our children, yet more kids are showing symptoms of anxiety.
Unfortunately, they aren’t immune to anxiety. They enter this big, scary world and face many mountains of their own. Think about moving towns, changing schools or even having to participate in a spelling bee when there’s a learning or attention issue. Anxiety can be crippling at any age.
What Do Symptoms of Anxiety Look Like in Children?
All children get stressed at some point in life. They might have a test coming up or a tryout for a sport that turns their tummy into knots. If that’s the case, how do you know if your child is overly anxious? Children struggling with anxiety may have frequent stomach aches, headaches, completely stop eating and stop playing with other friends.
If your child is worried about an activity months or weeks in the future, this is a major indicator anxiety is consuming him. Children can also worry about catastrophes that are unlikely to happen and ask many ‘what if’ questions like, “What if our house catches on fire during the night?”
A child’s anxiety can extend beyond himself and affect his family. Some parents plan their vacations around finding a place that won’t disturb their child and trigger anxiety.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel helpless when your child is facing anxiety, but when you remain steadfast and calm you can be fully present to guide your child through their everyday anxiety.
To help a child overcome anxiety, it’s important to first understand what’s going on in their mind. Children form anxious thoughts after sensing a threat and lacking the ability to cope. It derails them from daily activities when they get stuck in this pattern of thinking. The things that cause your child anxiety might not appear major, but it’s crucial to understand and empathize with your child’s struggle.
How to Keep Your Child From Worrying
Make sure your children feel heard and understood when they begin to worry. Don’t dismiss or minimize their feelings. To them, the feelings and thoughts are as real as you are and they need your reassurance. Next, teach them about two different paths the mind can take. Your anxious child automatically goes down the worry path without realizing that another option exists.
Help your child understand how the body changes when experiencing fear and anxiety, so he can begin to recognize the signs. Teach your child to talk back to their worries and fears. Imagine worry as a big bully or monster that can be conquered by telling why it isn’t welcome in your world.
The worry bully exists to keep everybody from enjoying life. Parents and siblings can even gang up on the worry bully together so that one child doesn’t feel isolated in this. The worry bully is an enemy we all must face together.
Show your child how he has the power to change his thinking. Give an example of a situation that could potentially cause anxiety for your child. Maybe even the thought of riding a school bus without you would cause him anxiety. The thoughts and feelings might range from, “What if nobody sits by me? What if the bus driver leaves me somewhere wrong? What if I get picked on? The bus is scary.”
Instead, you can think of it this way, “The bus driver is a professional and cares about the kids. My classmates show up every day to school without getting left somewhere else. My good friend Robby would sit with me if I asked him. My classmates even talk about how much fun it is to ride a bus.” The thoughts slowly shift to ones of excitement and confidence.
Don’t Give Up
Rewiring the brain to externalize anxiety takes time. If the family continues to focus on working together as a team to fight the worry bully, your child will experience different ways to overcome those anxious thoughts and not allow worry to wear him down. Talking with a counselor can help the family navigate through anxiety and brainstorm strategies for overcoming its influence.
“Girl,” Courtesy of greekfood-tamystika, pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Worried,” Courtesy of Eneas De Troya, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Afraid,” Courtesy of Joseph Gonzalez, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Plea”, Courtesy of Bkrmadtya Karki, Pixabay.com, CC0 License