A growing number of children in this country struggle with some form of anxiety and/or trauma, and in these uncertain times, these number are at a higher rate than ever before. Here are some tips and resources to help:
Signs to Look For:
- Trouble concentrating or focusing
- Trouble controlling worries
- Avoiding people, places or social situations
- Emotionally upset when not meeting self-expectations or those of others
- Trouble with transitions
- Restlessness or on edge
- Irritability (grumpy)
How Can I Help?
- Show healthy ways to handle stress and anxiety.
- Give praise and encourage your child when they face challenges and fears.
- Encourage the use of coping skills. Practice skills to help your child remain calm such as going for a walk together, practicing breathing exercises or listening to calming music.
- Be aware of transitions at home that might cause anxiety. Provide structure and routine as much as possible.
- Ask questions, talk to your child and keep the conversation open. Listen to your child’s experiences. Provide a supportive and understanding atmosphere to discuss these concerns.
- Talk with your doctor on your concerns about your child’s anxiety.
Addressing self-defeating thought processes:
According to cognitive behavioral theory, which is really effective in treating anxiety, anxiety is all about the self-defeating talk in one's head. Thinking in absolutes and somewhat catastrophic thinking patterns.
Whenever the child is anxious or is in a situation that may be anxiety provoking, you can ask them to tell you what they were telling themselves in their head about the situation and give a personal example of something you might tell yourself as a generalization. For instance, I might say to myself, " This is the worst. Nothing is every going to be okay again" but I can stop myself and tell myself instead, "this is difficult, but I've had other difficult things like this happen and I've always been okay in the end."
See the chart below:
Stop your negative thought
Ask what type of negative thought you had
Choose an accurate, helpful thought
"I get so nervous speaking in public. I just know that people are thinking about how bad I am at speaking."
Focusing on the negative
"I'm probably better at public speaking than I think I am. The last time I gave a talk, people applauded afterward."
"I have to be in control all the time or I can't cope with things."
"I can only control how I think about things or what I do. I can't control some things, like how other people feel and act."
"I'll never feel normal. I worry about everything all the time."
"I've laughed and relaxed before. I can practice letting go of my worries."
"My headaches must mean there is something seriously wrong with me."
"A lot of things can cause headaches. Most of them are minor and go away."
- Anxiety can also be cause by obsessing over what might happen. It's important to really trying to get to the root of the worry. For instance your child might be saying, “I'm stressing out because I don't have my homework done.” Not having his or her homework done might not be the real issue. The real issue could be that he or she is petrified of being embarrassed in front of the class, or maybe afraid they will fail the class and therefore flunk out of school, etc.
- Your job is to help the child think through what really is in their control and what is not, and then figure out how to tackle what is in their control.
- When they keep having those obsessive thoughts about things out of control, mindfulness, meditation and breathing exercises can really help, as can changing activities and getting any type of physical activity in. Writing or drawing can be really beneficial for some kids. Sometimes humor can be very powerful. Try to find something that works for them that they can eventually do it on their own . Teach them to do those things whenever those obsessive thoughts appear. (And then make a really big deal when they do those things to show them they are in control of their thoughts, not vise-versa.)
- Journaling or talking to a trusted individual can be very therapeautic. The theory is if you write or talk about your worries, you can let them out of your head. You could even have a little jar too, to place written "worries" in. You put them in and "leave them there" but you can always come back to get them if you need to.
- Online resources for children with anxiety:
5 apps parents can give to help relieve children's anxiety - cbt, breathing, and stress mangement for iOS and Android
Unhealthy, negative thinking patterns called cognitive distortions can contribute to depression, anxiety, and emotional dysregulation. How to identify them.
What's Normal Anxiety. Even in the best of situations, all children experience some anxiety in the form of worry, apprehension, dread, fear or distress.
For free live local help for any concerns or advice regarding a child: