It may seem like the noisy, stroppy kids are the ones who cause us headaches, but it’s the quiet, thoughtful little worriers who we end up stressing about deep down.
So how can you help ease your child’s worrying?
Stop reassuring them
It’s natural to want to assure your child that “everything is fine”, but don’t. Yes, it’s exactly what your child wants to hear, and believe, but if their stomach is in knots, they won’t be able to listen to you. During periods of anxiety, the body changes and the more logical part of the brain gets put on hold. With this in mind…
…Practice deep breathing
As with adults, taking charge of your anxiety is key, and an easy way to do that is to focus on the physical symptoms. Taking a few deep breaths will help them to feel calmer, and will ease their racing heart and stomach-churning, at least partially. If you do it with them, they’ll feel less alone.
Remind them that there's nothing 'wrong' with worrying
Anxiety is hard enough for your child. The last thing your child needs on top of it is the thought ‘there’s something wrong me.’ Remind them that worrying is normal. It's also a good idea to highlight that worrying does have a purpose. When we were hunter-gatherers, worrying helped us avoid attacks from the saber-toothed cat lurking in the bush!
Let them worry...for a while
Allowing them to worry is a good thing, in small doses. Create a daily ritual called ‘Worry Time’ that lasts 10 – 15 minutes. During this time, encourage your kids to release all of their worries in writing. You can make it fun by decorating a worry box. During worry time, there are no rules on what constitutes a valid worry – anything goes. But once the time is up, close the box and say goodbye to the worries for the day.
Bring their worry to life
As with most problems, ignoring anxiety won’t make it go away. But bringing it to life might. Create a character for your child, or personify it in some way. Doing this helps to demystify the scary physical response kids experience when they worry. If they think of it as just an annoying creature sitting on their shoulder, they’ll feel they have the power to tell it where to f*ck off to!
It’s well known that exercise is a great de-stressor, and it works just as well for kids. If it’s not already part of your child’s daily routine, add daily exercise to your child’s plan and let them know that not only is it good for their body, it will also help keep the Worry Monster away. Exercise can be anything from swimming and soccer to dodgeball or just plain jumping around.
Don’t teach them to think positively
Contrary to popular belief, teaching kids to think positively isn’t the best way to help them deal with anxiety. Rather, the best remedy for distorted thinking is accurate thinking. This involves the three C’s: Catch your thoughts (maybe it’s ‘nobody at school likes me’); Collect evidence (basically, find reasons that suggest the fear is unfounded, for instance - ‘Well, actually, Amy sat next to me at lunch yesterday’) and Challenge the thoughts (teach kids to have a little debate within themselves).
Avoid avoiding everything that causes anxiety
Do your children want to avoid social events, dogs, school, planes or basically any situation that causes anxiety? As a parent, do you help them do so? Of course! This is natural. The flight part of the flight-fight-freeze response urges your children to escape the threatening situation. Unfortunately, in the long run, avoidance makes anxiety worse.
If all else fails, focus their attention elsewhere! Let them pick a favourite activity such as ten minutes on the computer or time out for watching TV. Let them do that activity whenever a worry attack comes on. This lets them fight worry with pleasure and takes their mind off their worries.