How to Help your Child with Anxiety: 6 Tips to Ease Worries and Find Calm

How to help your child with anxiety - 6 tipes to ease worries

Kendra Fogarty, M.Ed.

It is painful to watch your child slip under the dark cloud of anxiety. Perhaps you also know what it’s like to feel uncomfortable with everyday experiences or maybe this challenge is a new mountain for you to climb. Either way, help your child with anxiety to find calm today with these 6 tips.

1. Listen & Validate 

This might seem obvious to some, but I really want you to take a closer look at the way that you respond to your child. You are coming from a good place, but sometimes slight changes can make a big difference. Do you make comments similar to:

  • “There is nothing to worry about.”
  • “This is so silly, why are you worrying?”
  • “You’re going to turn into a worry-wart if you don’t stop!”
  • “Oh, just relax, this isn’t an issue.”

Telling someone not to worry or that there isn’t a reason to worry seems harmless, but it isn’t supportive nor is it going to help anyone feel less worried. (Anyone with anxiety certainly wishes it were that easy, though!)

If you would like your child to determine on their own that there is nothing to worry about, one way that you can guide them is by teaching them to become a thought detective (check out #2).

When your child shares a worry, you notice their hands shaking, or maybe they have another stomachache, try saying things like:

  •  “I noticed you might be feeling worried, again. Tell me more about what’s going on in your mind and body…” 
  • “When I see you biting your nails with your brows scrunched, it is a sign to me that your worries are back. I am so sorry that you are feeling this way again. I know how painful it is for you. Let’s talk about them and then we can practice some strategies…”
  • “How are you feeling today? How is your body feeling? What is something that might help?”
  • “You have had this worry before and you got through it. Let’s talk about what helped last time…”
  • “I know this is not easy to work through. I am here for you and we will get through this together.”

 

2. Train them to become a Thought Detective

While saying, “there’s nothing to worry about” may not successfully calm down a child that is feeling anxious, you can coach them through their own rushing thoughts to help them reach that conclusion on their own. It’s way more effective when the pathways of their own brain take them to a decision. This is where the strategy of becoming a Thought Detective comes into play. With this technique, we don’t focus on thinking positively – instead, we focus on thinking accurately. 

Ask your child to pretend that they are a detective investigating their worry. Tell them that they need to collect the facts, or evidence, that their worry is true and worth all their energy right now. Rating scales are helpful to include while sleuthing (such as “on a scale of 1-10, how likely is this to happen?”)

For example, let’s say Jane is worrying about a test at school. Some good detective questions might be:

  • What have we done to prepare for the test? (Ideally, this answer would include examples of study sessions, homework, etc)
  • Have you ever gotten a poor score on a test before? (If yes, talk about what happened after and how it was resolved, such as re-taking, studying harder for the next test, etc.) 
  • What is the worst that will happen if you get a poor grade? (Help them to see that the effects won’t be long-lasting.)
  • Is there anything that you can do to change this outcome? (If time is up, then remind them it is not worth worrying about as we have no control at this point. If there is still time, review the questions again to build confidence.) 
  • Will this situation still be causing you to worry in a year? 5 years? 10 years? (This helps to put a worry into perspective.)

Now, this is an example related to homework, but you can see how you can ask similar questions about other situations as well – the goal is just to get to the bottom of the anxiety with facts and a greater sense of control.

A great way to do this is by making a list with 2 columns. On one side, list the clues that support the thought (or worry) and on the other side list clues that are against the thought.

(Use this strategy with caution. If a child is worrying about something very serious, valid, and life-changing, this would not be the best strategy. Focus on other coping strategies instead, like #3.)

3. Tap it Out

Tapping or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can be a very powerful technique that works by balancing the body’s energy by tapping meridian points. It is believed to restore balance to a disrupted system by sending signals to the part of the brain that controls stress. This is a great strategy to try to help you child with anxiety. 

It feels similar to a guided meditation focused on affirmations, but with the added bonus of hitting pressure points. I recorded this video for children at bit.ly/WrenTapping, but you can also search Youtube for other good options.

4. Use Ice for the really Tough Moments

Watching a child experience a true panic attack is one of the most heartbreaking experiences. Please know that there is hope for your child to learn to cope and manage those intense emotions. With consistent practice of coping strategies, panic attacks can become far less frequent and disruptive. Until then, try bringing your child into the present moment by placing an ice cube (or frozen veggies) on their belly. It is really hard to focus on anything but that sensation. If placing it on their belly feels too violating to your child, try the palm of their hand instead, allow them to choose and place the ice, and talk to your child about why you are using this strategy to help them return to a feeling of calm.

5. Practice a variety of Strategies (while Calm!)

When things are going well, it is easy to make the mistake of leaving coping strategies on the back burner. But, if your child is always told to take deep breaths while they are upset, their brain won’t be able to access the skills as well. Additionally, many coping strategies are preventative in nature as well, like a reset or a hug to their nervous system. 

Try to set aside time each day to review your child’s preferred strategies and to try a few new ones. Even if one strategy, such as grounding practices, has been effective, it is a good idea to pack their coping toolboxes with as many tools as they can fit! And remember, not all strategies feel like a brain-boosting counseling session. Exercise, dancing, singing, reading, writing, etc are all great options to build into your day.

6. Manage your own Anxiety 

Your child feels your emotions more than you may realize. It is really challenging to support someone else through their anxiety when your thoughts are spiraling as well. Give yourself the same unconditional love, support, and patience that you give to your child. Allow yourself the time in your own schedule to reset your mind to work towards inner calm. 

If you’re experiencing separation anxiety, it is especially important to work through your feelings so that you aren’t negatively impacting your child’s ability to thrive and achieve secure attachment. Working with a professional is recommended if you feel you aren’t able to get this form of anxiety under control. Additionally, take a step back from your reactions towards your child to check to see what other feelings they may be picking up: frustration, fear, anger, etc? 

Check out my new book, Wren & the Worry-Vanishing Magic: A Strategy-Filled Guide to Help Ease Anxious Feelings, to learn more strategies to help build confidence and help you child with anxiety to find calm.

Wren and her friends help children feel less alone in their own worries and discuss 9 common sources of anxiety as well as 20 ‘not-so-magic’ coping skills. 

Additionally, I offer private coaching (not counseling, not therapy!) to help you and your child lay a solid foundation of anxiety management skills. Reach out (kendra@yougotthiscounselors.com) if you’d like to schedule a consultation and set up a game plan to help breathe some peace into your day! Additionally, here are some free tools and resources for counselors that some parents of anxious children would also benefit from (like the coping skills cootie catcher!)

Book with ways to help child with anxiety