Anxiety is common in childhood and, as parents, you are the best resource your child has to get through it. Here are 5 things you can do straight away to support them.
1. Remind them they’re not alone
Remember going through something difficult as a child and feeling like you were the only person in the world this was happening to? This can be a really lonely place to be and may make it difficult for your child to tell you what’s wrong. It’s also not uncommon for anxiety to come out in “meltdowns” and anger for children who struggle to verbalise how they are feeling. Don’t underestimate the importance of reminding them that everyone has worries and sometimes they feel too big to deal with. Consider sharing an example of an (age appropriate) worry you’ve had in the past and how you tackled it.
2. Use the power of story
Children can learn so much about the world through the art of storytelling and that includes some of life’s tougher messages. A personal favourite film of mine for this purpose is Disney Pixar’s “Inside Out” which tackles the topic of childhood depression with empathy, skill and room for lots of laughs. The hero of the story, 11 year old Riley, is faced with moving house with her parents and leaving her old friends behind. We see her process this though the personifications of her 5 basic emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust. Watch together with your child and ask them when their own fear shows up.
3. One thing at a time
It can be tempting to want to tackle all your child’s fears at once, but in reality, this may just heighten their anxiety. In therapy, we use the principles of graded exposure to break down a fear into easier steps – so with a spider phobia you wouldn’t hand someone a spider straight away, you’d start by looking at pictures of them, and work your way up.
4. Focus on what they do well
When a child is struggling with anxiety, they become acutely aware of what they can’t do. It’s important not to lose focus of their strengths and regularly talk about these, so strengths are mentioned at least as much as challenges. Being reminded of what they do well will help boost your child’s confidence in facing the things they find more difficult and help to contextualise anxiety as a blip in the road, not a major part of their identity.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
It can be stressful trying to manage your child’s difficulties on your own, especially as it can take time for things to change. Recruit family and friends to help in whatever way they can, even if that just means being on the other end of the phone when you’ve had a challenging day. If your child’s anxiety does not reduce over time and is stopping them doing the things they usually enjoy, you might want to consider seeking professional advice. Visit your GP or take a look at our Counselling for Teenagers and Children page to see how we can help.