practical ways to help your child cope with worries
Developed by Shanan R. Raines, Ph.D., Westhampton Family Psychologists, P.C.
1. Make sure your child is sleeping and eating sufficiently.
Fatigue and hunger can fuel anxiety and reduce a child’s cognitive and emotional coping skills.
2. Teach your child to relax.
Deep breathing can be helpful, but children often end up hyperventilating unless they have been trained appropriately. Children benefit from more active forms of relaxation. A calm voice and shoulder rub can be helpful, but also involve your child in a repetitive activity such as walking, bike riding, swinging or other rhythmic activity to help calm them. The use of imagery can also help a child feel more calm and/or empowered. (For instance, they can visualize themselves relaxing on a beach, or to empower themselves, they can visualize themselves fighting off monsters).
3. Help your child feel secure.
Review your child’s strengths and give them ways to feel powerful (see imagery above). Give them a special object that will help them feel strong and brave. However, be sure to remind them that they made the choice to be brave and that the object was there just to help in making the choice.
4. Use rewards and nontangible incentives to help them get credit for being brave.
For example, use stickers to mark each time they tried to ride their bike when they were scared.
5. Review what they can do rather than what they cannot do.
For example, if a child is too scared to participate, then ask them what they feel they can accomplish. Reinforce and reward partial steps towards their ultimate goal.
6. Radically reduce television, video games and other exposures to violence.
While most children can manage typical shows, children prone to worry and anxiety may be more impacted by TV than is recognized.
7. Do not expose children to TV news shows.
Children can learn about current events through your discussions with them, but the drama and sensationalism of TV news is beyond what children can handle (see NCCEV.org for a very helpful guideline).
8. Pick a time and place to worry.
Allowing a child to have a specific time to ruminate will give your child a sense of control and also reduce the overall time spent worrying. Delaying the time to worry will help the child realize they have control over their fears.
9. Monitor your reactions.
The way you handle worries and fears will have a strong impact on your children. While you can let them know you have concerns, also let them see how you manage your feelings through positive self-talk, relaxation and other coping strategies.
10. Set limits and keep routines.
Children who worry need to feel the adults in their environment are in control. Being too permissive may result in a child feeling insecure and unsafe. Predictable routines also help reduce the worry of the unexpected.
11. Have your child rate his or her fear.
Putting a number from 1 to 10 on their fear may help them put it into perspective and thus help them feel more in control of the fear.
12. Don’t avoid feared activities or experiences.
With encouragement, allow your child the chance to experience and overcome their worries about an event. Repeated exposure will reduce worry.
13. Leave your child quickly and obviously if they are having difficulty with transitions.
Prolonging transitions or trying to “sneak” away will create increased anxiety and mistrust.
14. Practice patience.
Having an anxious child can be exhausting. Remember they are not worrying to annoy you personally. Your aggravation does not decrease their fears, but adds one more worry to their list … will you still love them even though they are afraid?
15. Don’t tell a child to stop worrying.
Asking a child to stop thinking about worrying may increase a child’s sense of being bad or feeling that worrying is bad. Help a child channel worry or gradually “let go” of worry.
16. Play the “What if” game
Review with your child worst-case scenarios to help them realize they could manage their worst fears. Also help the child develop reasons their worst fears could not happen rather than reasons their fears could happen.
Worry by Edward Hallowell, M.D.
This very readable book written by the author of Driven to Distraction is geared to more everyday worry rather than anxiety disorders.
Your Anxious Child by John S. Dacey and Lisa B. Fiore.
This book is geared more towards helping with significant anxiety and fears, but also offers some practical advice.
Helping Your Anxious Child by Ronald Rapee.
This book is geared more towards a wider range of anxiety issues in children. Well written and informative.