My second daughter has anxiety. Not the clinically diagnosed, anxiety-disorder type of anxiety, but the kind of anxiety that makes her have meltdowns when plans change unexpectedly, or an upset stomach when she is going into a new situation, or the kind of anxiety that makes her avoid trying new things.
This type of anxiety stems from fear of the unknown, and that’s what I’m talking about today. This type of anxiety can cause physical symptoms from emotional turmoil, and she deals with headaches and upset stomachs on a regular basis (1). We’ve been working for 8 years to help alleviate her anxiety, and these are some of the things we do on a regular basis to help calm her anxiety and help her overcome her fears.
This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I receive a small commission if you purchase through my links, at no additional cost to you. Please read my Disclosure for more info.
Prep Children for New Experiences
New experiences can be scary for children who deal with anxiety. There is so much unknown. But talking through what the new experience will be like can help dispel the fear and create healthy expectations to replace the unhealthy ones. If you’ve been in the situation before, talk to your kids about what it’s like, what to expect, what will happen, and whom will be there. Talk about how to act in the situation, how to dress appropriately, and how to respond to others who will be in the experience. If it’s a new experience for everyone, talk about your own expectations and how you feel about the experience. Be sure to have the prep talk a few days or weeks in advance of the new experience to give your child time to process and ask questions, and you may find they need several discussions in order to work through all their thoughts on what the new experience will be.
Talk About What You Know
When your child is anxious about something, sometimes it helps to talk about what you DO know, rather than focusing on what you don’t know. Spin the conversation to the positive things, and show them they actually know quite a lot about the topic.
For instance, school this year. As we’re all heading back to school this year in the midst of a pandemic, there’s a lot we don’t know, and it’s caused a lot of people some serious anxiety. But there ARE some things we DO know. We know the school administrators are doing their best to find safe ways of delivering instruction. They’re doing their best to follow CDC guidelines. They’re thinking about different family situations and how they can accommodate learning for every family environment. Even though there’s a lot of missing information, there’s some information we DO know. Focusing on the positive information and realizing we do have some knowledge about a situation will help ease the anxiety.
Talk About What You Don’t Know
On the flip side of the coin, sometimes we need to talk to our kids about what they DON’T know. Anxiety can build when kids are worried about bad things happening, and sometimes we need to remind them that their assumptions can be wrong. If your kids imagine negative conversations or negative interactions with friends, remind them about times when those interactions were positive. If your child thinks an experience has to be bad, but you know they’ve had a good similar experience, remind them of those things. Sometimes we can fear the worst when in reality, most of the time things go well. Talk up those positive experiences again and remind your child that their imagined expectations are probably not going to happen.
Discuss How Your Child Feels
Anxiety is a feeling, and teaching your child how to express their emotions is critical to raising healthy kids who turn into healthy adults. Teach your child Emotional Intelligence and help them talk about how they’re feeling. Talking about their fears and their worries allows you to rationally calm them and dispel the fear, and you can help refocus their attention on the positive instead of the negative. You can reassure your child that they are safe and loved, and you can encourage them to be brave and try new things. Discussing how your child is feeling is a major key to helping alleviate anxiety in your child.
Discuss Similar Previous Situations
Sometimes kids forget. They learn they’ll be in a new environment or a new situation and have a total meltdown because they don’t remember they’ve already been in a similar situation and survived with smiles and rainbows! When our kids are anxious, it can be helpful to remind them that they’ve been through this type of experience before and came through it with flying colors. It can help them set expectations, understand how to act, and have a little bit of an idea of what’s coming even if the situation will be a new one. Discussing similar previous situations can give your kiddo the courage he or she needs to confident rather than afraid.
Remind Children They Are Safe and Loved
Anxiety makes kids feel alone and unsafe. If we can talk with our kids about their fears, and teach them how to communicate their feelings to us, they can learn that we value their emotions and they’ll feel safe and loved. It never hurts to remind our kiddos that we love them and it’s our job to keep them safe.
It’s our job as parents to help our children when they are anxious and afraid. Prepping our children for new experiences gives them time to acclimate to the new thing. If we will talk about what they know – and what they don’t know! – then we can remind them they are more in control of the situation and know more than they thought they knew. Discussing how they feel teaches children to identify and share their feelings, and discussing similar previous situations reminds them they might not be going into a totally unknown situation. Children need to feel loved and safe, and having these various types of conversations will reaffirm these feelings to your child.
Do your children struggle with anxiety? How do you help them through it? Do you have any other pointers you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you so drop a comment below and let’s continue the discussion!
All the best,
Footnote: (1) Harvard Health Publishing: Anxiety in Children https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/anxiety-in-children-2018081414532