We’ve paid special attention to kids’ problems with anxiety in a number of our For Dummies books, including “Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies,” “Child Psychology and Development For Dummies,” and “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies.” That’s because attending to anxiety early can help prevent the emergence of much bigger problems down the road.
I thought you might like to see some of these ideas in a snapshot. Here they are:
Provide kids with lots of mastery experiences in activities such as sports, hobbies that require skill, and puzzles. Build these skills up gradually and your child will learn what psychologists call a sense of self-efficacy; in other words, confidence in their own abilities.
Validate your children’s emotions. When your kids look anxious, consider saying things like “I see you’re a little afraid right now,” or “Are you worried about something? Because if you are, that’s OK; let’s talk about it.”
Don’t deny your kids’ feelings. It’s best not to tell them things like, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” “Big girls don’t cry,” or “You’re not really afraid.”
Don’t overprotect. Of course you don’t want to see your kids feel anxious, but they really need to learn how to deal with most fears all by themselves. Allow them to experience moderate amount of worries and struggles. If you try to protect them from ever feeling frustrated or anxious, you’re likely to do more harm than good.
Don’t provide unneeded reassurance. We talk about this issue from time to time in our blogs and it’s similar to the preceding point. When you excessively reassure kids that everything will be alright, you teach them to count on you to feel OK rather than on their own resources.
Teach your kids strategies for calming down. You can easily teach your children to take a few deep, slow breaths or count to ten slowly. You can also teach them that anxiety and fear always go down if you wait long enough. Always.
Praise your kids when they make efforts to cope. Don’t punish them for failing to do so.
Obviously, if you have a child that shows signs of serious, chronic anxiety, you should consult a mental health professional. But if you follow these basic tips, perhaps such a visit won’t be necessary. And if you do need to seek a professional’s help, don’t catastrophize about it. Treatment for anxiety in children is very effective and often takes less time than it does for adults.