When kids have anxiety, even the well-meaning guardians or parents who do not want the child to suffer can make the situation worse. It happens when guardians try to shield their children from their fear.
Here is how you can help your child overcome the cycle of anxiety:
Don’t avoid things just because they make a child anxious
It can be tempting to avoid activities that make your children anxious or uncomfortable — especially if you feel like you are failing as a parent because you can’t stop their discomfort! However, avoiding situations only reinforces the idea that there is something wrong with them or that they shouldn’t try new things because something bad might happen (which means more anxiety).
Don’t ask leading questions
Do not ask leading questions like “Are you afraid of spiders?” because they tend to elicit yes/no answers rather than provide additional information about what a child is thinking or feeling at that moment. Instead, ask open-ended questions, e.g., “What do you think about spiders? What makes you feel scared about them? Are there ways we could help you not be afraid anymore? What would those look like? Do you want me to help you find some books about spiders? How about if we read together for a little bit today so that I can understand more about what you are thinking…?). Encourage the child to open up about their feelings and ask questions also.
Express positive but realistic expectations
Anxiety and fear are normal reactions to challenging situations. Children with anxiety tend to worry about what might happen in the future – even when there’s no evidence that anything bad will occur. Encourage your child to think through what might happen and talk about how they can handle it if it does occur.
If they still feel anxious after you have talked it through together, encourage them to talk with a trusted adult who can help them work through their fears (like a teacher). If they are worried about something specific that is happening now, for example, having an exam, encourage them not to worry too much about it until after it has happened and then talk about it together afterwards so they know what went well and what needs improvement.
The aim is to manage the anxiety
No parent wants to see their child unhappy, but the best way to help your child overcome anxiety is not to try and do away with stressors that trigger the anxiety. The aim is to help your child learn how they can deal with their anxiety and live as well as they can, even when they get anxious. As a result, the child will know how to handle it over time.
Keep the anticipatory time short
When someone is afraid of something, the most challenging time is the period before they do it. Therefore, another rule of thumb for you as a parent is to try to eradicate or reduce the anticipatory time. If the child is anxious about going to the dentist, you do not want to get into a discussion about the dentist about three hours before your visit. That will possibly make your kid even more keyed up. Try to shorten the time to a minimum.
As we observe the mental health awareness month of May, children, like adults are susceptible to mental health challenges. The only difference is that symptoms may vary. Therefore, pay close attention to your child and ensure they know they can count on you. If your child’s anxiety stays for long and hinders trheir day-to-day lives, see a mental health professional.