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5 Ways to Help Your Anxious Child

Anxiety disorders affect up to 7% of Australian children and adolescents. They can be incredibly challenging for children and their families. Parents often struggle to deal with their child’s anxiety, not knowing the right things to do or say. We’ve compiled a list of our top 5 tips for parents to help their kids take charge of their anxiety.

1.    Give anxiety a nickname.  Children with anxiety often present with what appears to be behavioural problems, such as tantrums, irritability and avoidance of things they don’t enjoy. This can cause conflict between the child, their parents and other family members. Instead of falling into the trap of blaming the child for this behaviour, we can turn the blame on the “Anxiety Monster” by giving it a silly nickname, such as “Mr Worry Wart” or “Bossy Boots”. Kids might also choose a nickname based on an annoying or “evil” character in one of their favourite books, TV shows or movies.

2.    Educate them about anxiety. Anxiety will often trick children by telling them something bad is going to happen. It helps to teach kids about why we all experience anxiety, and how to recognise when anxiety is becoming a problem. We recommend explaining that anxiety is helpful when we are in real danger (e.g., if we were to come across a poisonous snake, anxiety would tell us we need to get away), but that it sometimes gives us false alarms, making us feel in danger when we are actually safe.

3.    Talk back to anxiety. When you notice your child becoming anxious, rather than providing them reassurance that there is nothing to be afraid of, use the opportunity to help them talk back to anxiety. Questions like “Is the Anxiety Monster bossing you around?” or “Is this real danger or just a false alarm?” can help your child begin to take charge of their anxiety.

4.    Reduce your anxiety accommodation. You might have noticed yourself changing your lifestyle to avoid making your child anxious, like walking them to the their classroom when you used to drop them off at the gate, or turning off the TV when something they fear is mentioned. Remember that accommodating to anxiety will only make it worse in the long term. Gradually reducing your accommodation in small steps can help children learn to tolerate anxiety and overcome their fears.

5.    Encourage bravery. Avoiding the things that make your child anxious will help them feel better in the short term, but in the long term this feeds anxiety because they never get the chance to overcome their fears. Research shows that gradually helping children face their fears is the key to overcoming an anxiety disorder. Talk to your child about being brave and facing the Anxiety Monster in small steps. Rewards are a great idea for encouraging ongoing bravery.

It is normal for parents and families to be unsure about how to help their child. If you are struggling to manage your child’s anxiety on your own, professional help is available. Contact us at the Children’s Centre for Anxiety and OCD today to schedule an initial consultation for you and your child.

Author: Cassie Lavell, Clinical Psychologist, Children’s Centre for Anxiety and OCD

Linked from our sister clinic Children’s Centre for Anxiety & OCD: Link