Anxiety doesn’t discriminate. It affects people of all ages; however, when children feel it, most often they’re not aware of what it is, why they have it, and how to get relief. In today’s blog, we will discuss ways in which to help children learn the tools to help them calm down when in times of stress.
What is Anxiety?
This question may seem like it has an obvious answer, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Everyone experiences anxiety, and it’s usually due to some scary event, fear, or even watching something frightening. Moreover, anxiety can be as simple as taking a test, called test anxiety, or meeting new people or even being around other people (social anxiety). Anxiety is when your body’s fight or flight kicks in, specifically when the brain releases adrenaline, getting your body ready to fight the danger or flee it.
In prehistoric times, this was an excellent mechanism with which to fight off a saber tooth tiger or flee it and comes from our primitive brain. Now, the dangers of ancient times are no longer a threat, but that doesn’t matter to our brain. It still thinks we’re in danger and takes action. In adults, the brain tries to protect them by instructing the body to heighten sensations that allow them to recognize when there’s danger. In children, their brains aren’t fully developed; therefore, they may not understand those signals. All they know is that they’re scared and don’t know what to do.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Various symptoms go along with anxiety, and if allowed to surface, without fearing them, they will come and go. These symptoms include:
- Cold, sweaty palms
- Racing heart
- Indigestion or slow digestion
- Tingly feeling
- A sense of impending doom
Now, in children, they don’t know what’s going on, which leads to panic—increased anxiety symptoms that include crying, not being able to speak, and immobility (not being able to move). This can be quite scary in children, especially young children.
Ways To Calm Children
When a child is in the throes of anxiety, as a parent or guardian, all you want to do is take it away; however, that’s not possible. What is possible is helping them to calm themselves by teaching them about anxiety and tools in which to help manage it. You need to validate their feelings, but not feed the fear. Here are ways in which to help empower your children when they’re anxious.
- Don’t eliminate anxiety; help manage it. This is a tough thing to do as a parent since no one wants their child to suffer. However, the best way to help kids overcome their anxiety is to help them tolerate it and see it as not scary but empowering. When kids know and understand that everyone gets anxious and that their symptoms are nothing to worry about, it decreases the anxiety’s hold over them. Remember, anxiety is a set of symptoms designed to protect your child from danger. When a child learns he’s not in real danger, the symptoms will decrease.
- Validate their feelings, but don’t feed them. To do this means not giving into their anxiety, but recognizing their feelings. Validation means accepting but not agreeing. If a child is terrified of seeing the doctor, you can’t not go. In this situation, it’s best to talk to them about their fears; find out what makes them scared. Now, you can be empathetic to them, but you can also encourage them to face their fears. Telling them that you understand why they’re afraid and that it’s okay to feel that way is validating their feelings. When you say, “I know you’re afraid of, and that’s okay. I’m here, and we will get through this together,” is much more empowering.
- Don’t ask misleading questions. When you encourage your child to talk about their feelings, don’t feed them triggering questions. For example, with the above doctor example. Don’t ask them questions, such as: “Are you afraid of a shot?” Are you scared of the doctor?” Are you scared of them touching you?” These questions just fuel anxiety. Ask a straightforward question—” How are you feeling about seeing the doctor?”
- Express positive, but realistic expectations. You can’t promise your child that another classmate won’t laugh at them during the class presentation or that they won’t fail their test. What you can do is build confidence in them. Consider saying, “If a child laughs, don’t let it bother you. Just go on and know you’re doing fine, even if you feel anxious.” Or, “All you can do is your best. If you study and do your best and still fail the test, it’s okay. I won’t get angry..” These calming words help children feel they can manage their fears.
- Try to model healthy ways of handling anxiety. There are many ways in which to let kids manage their anxiety, but by far, the most impactful one is allowing them to see how you handle anxiety. Kids are intuitive and very impressionable. If they see you handling anxiety with calmness and not fear, it reinforces to them that anxiety is nothing to fear. Let them hear and see you calmly managing your stress, without panicking over it.
Need Further Help? Contact Ardu Recovery Center
Sometimes, if anxiety isn’t managed well, it can lead to an anxiety or panic disorder in children. If your child is struggling with severe anxiety, please reach and let Ardu Recovery Center help. Our staff of caring and supportive people is here to get your child counseling or other treatments to help them overcome their anxiety and live free of fear again.