How To Help Your Child Deal With Anxiety – Part Oneby Dr Emma Gray - 19th September, 2014
1. Don’t Minimise Their Anxiety
Anxiety is an evolutionary response to a perceived threat, therefore if your child is suffering from anxiety it is because they believe that they are at risk from harm, so even if you do not share this perception, you must take theirs seriously.
Minimising how they feel, telling them not to ‘be silly’ or trying to jolly them along with not only serve to exacerbate their anxiety but will undermine their self esteem and as low self esteem underpins most mental health problems, responding to your child in this way will create more problems for them.
2. Find Out What They are Thinking
Anxiety is the result of two types of thought, if you identify both of these and work with your child to replace them with more helpful and accurate alternatives, their anxiety will quite quickly begin to dissipate. The first of these thoughts is an underestimation of a future catastrophic event (remember, this is in their eyes, not necessarily yours).
Sit down with them and try to work out what this is, with younger children ask them to draw what they think might happen, for older children sit them down quietly and spend time talking it through, keeping in mind that initially they might not know what it is they are predicting will happen and might need help to work it out. Once you have identified the ‘catastrophe’ help your child to work out how likely it is that things will pan out in this way by looking at all the other ways that it might go and has gone in the past.
The second type of thought that contributes to anxiety is a lack of confidence in our ability to cope with the perceived catastrophe. Explore this with your child and help them to feel that they are not alone in dealing with this, make them to feel as if they are a part of a team (i.e. the whole family, teachers, friends etc) and that you will work things out together. Then help them to work out what they would do if the ‘catastrophe’ occurred.
This will increase their confidence which will in turn reduce their anxiety, if they feel they can cope with the ‘catastrophe’ everything else becomes a walk in the park. Depending on the age of the child a combination of role play (with puppets for younger children) and discussion is helpful here, not forgetting to follow up and review how things are going.
This is part 1 of a multi part article, click below to navigate.