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Anxiety in Children

How to deal with anxiety in children and handle their fears?

Just as you would with any adult!

Listen to them and treat their anxieties with respect

As they grow and develop, children have many fearful situations to master and often how they conquer these depends on their temperament, the level of support, and how we, as parents, model our own reactions to stress.

Anxiety in children, just as in adults, is about feeling worried, concerned and apprehensive about events in the environment or because of thoughts and fears from within.

anxiety in children

Separation anxiety in children occurs as a natural consequence of separation, usually from the mother, in young infants and is a normal stage in their development. Around age 2 toddlers begin to understand that their parents may leave them and will return again. This usually comes about because we help our toddlers by building a great sense of safety around them and because toddlers are at the stage of testing their autonomy.

Fearful Parents

Children whose parents are fearful and anxious usually tend to exhibit more fearful behavior. It’s natural that children learn what they see and imbibe from their surroundings, so if you feel your child is being overly anxious, first look to your own reactions and search for ways to control your behavior.

I have frequently observed fearful mothers who instantly pay more attention to their children when the children voice anxiety, but appear to have much less input, response or praise to their child's other activities. This response is understandable because it mirrors to the mother her own way of being.

However, it also serves to reinforce the notion that anxiety in children will bring them attention. And for full on attention, children quickly learn just how to push our buttons! This is a difficult path as it means taking the time for your own self awareness and trying to eradicate fearful responses from your own reactions. The beauty of parenting is that as we learn with our children, we grow and develop in ways we hadn't imagined ourselves! Monitoring our own anxiety levels enables us to better handle anxiety in children.

Anxiety in Children:- Be Respectful

Don't just dismiss their fears

It’s really important that any anxiety in children you notice isn’t ridiculed or minimized. So often we dismiss quite normal fears by saying, don’t be silly or it’s not that bad!! It’s far more helpful to mirror back to your child what he says and seek clarification, than to dismiss his fears by sweeping them away.

anxiety in children

It's interesting to note our own reactions to people exhibiting fear. We tend to dismiss in others what we have trouble dealing with in ourselves, so keep a note of whether you are being dismissive in your attitude to general anxiety in other adults. This awareness of your own reactions may help you deal more effectively with anxiety in children.

Be respectful of your child's fears and create positive and tender moments to address them. In my experience, many parents just cannot be bothered with the extra time needed to help their children address some very common fears, such as the dark, monsters and ghosts, creepy crawlies and odd noises.

We need to stop and patiently invite our children to reflect to us what they are thinking and feeling. They need reassurance and comfort, not dismissal. It’s helpful to imagine that you are feeling fearful and to think about what you would most need in that circumstance. Try to stand in your child's shoes and feel for the common reasons for anxiety in children.

Children overhear snippets of conversation and commonly misjudge reactions and then develop their own ideas from this. When your children are young, it is easier to monitor what they do, see and hear. However, as they get older, a lot of their activity is hidden from you. This makes creating special times to talk even more important.

Fearful television programs

Get into the habit of talking with your children about what they see on television. Remember that children do not differentiate between fact and fiction in the same way we do. Sometimes we just take it for granted that they understand something is pretend when in fact they see it as real.

As a child I didn't see television often, and seldom went to the movies. I developed some quite extraordinary fears after watching Hansel and Gretel as a 10 year old. In fact it took me many years to enjoy watching movies without entering back into some of those fears. I often wonder what difference it would have made to my enjoyment of movie going, had I given voice to some of that anxiety and been heard!

I'm quite sure that some movies and television programs produce a great deal of anxiety in children.

Teaching Your Children to Take Control

Show your children different ways of dealing with their anxieties. Talk about some of your own and the ways you have dealt with them. Make suggestions about practical ways to conquer fearful situations - practice new routines and go over situations that may be frightening such as first occasions.

Very Scary Monster

One of my children told me of a very scary monster that spent some time in her room at night. She explained that it hovered near the bedroom door and that she was deeply disturbed and frightened by it.

I had no idea where this notion came from, however, instead of dismissing it, I suggested that she take control of the situation and that the next time the monster appeared she was to tell him to go away - that she didn't need him to be there any more.

This seemingly simple action worked its powerful magic for my daughter. Not only did the monster disappear, but she learned a valuable control technique as well and that voicing her fears gave her both the power and the means to control them.

Encourage Confidence in Themselves

Have lots of open-ended conversations with your children to help them question how they would cope with their anxiety in different situations.

Sprinkle you speech with open ended questions - use the six starting words.

How, Why, What, Who, When, Where.

Engage in conversations that begin with -

  • What do you think will happen?
  • How will you handle it?
  • Where would you get support?
  • Why would you suggest that?
  • When do you think that's appropriate?
  • Who would you ask?

  • This encourages your children to think for themselves.

    raising confident children Listen to how you speak to your children

    Do you tell, or do you suggest?

    Do you talk or do you listen?

    Bedtime is a wonderful opportunity to reinforce new learning and to listen to and provide help with fears and anxieties. Before your children go off to sleep surround them in loving, positive energy.

    Let them know that you love them, respect them and consider their fears valid.

    Encourage communication by using sound listening skills and reflecting back to them what you heard them say. Give them the means to take control by not doing it all for them.

    Teach your children about positive self talk and mirror this to them as well as providing them with opportunities to practice it. Positive self talk greatly helps relieve anxiety in children.

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