We are not always able to look inside our children’s minds and read their thoughts and feelings. It would be great to be able to do so, right? Some children feel and process the world around them but differently than others. They see situations that we would barely blink at as a threat. When thoughts and emotions pile up, sometimes it creates child anxiety.
Many children don’t have the ability, at least in the earlier years, to express how they feel. Some may complain of stomach aches, not being able to sleep, eat or concentrate. Some may avoid events or other things they like because they are worried about not doing well at what is in front of them.
As children age, they develop the vocabulary and abilities to express. themselves. It still may be difficult to come to you or any other adult, however, so they may continue to try to hide the issue. They may feel ashamed, or not want to add to the stress they know you may already be dealing with.
How Can I Help Ease My Child’s Mind?
Almost every parent wants to help their child feel better. We don’t like knowing our child is feeling any kind of pain, uncertainty, or any other negative feeling.
1. Don’t just ask, “What’s wrong?” This may seem like a simple question to ask, but there might not be an easy answer. You can start with a statement like, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been a bit different lately (then explain what you mean). Can we talk about what might be bothering you?” This might have to be altered a bit depending on the age of the child you are talking to, but it opens the space for discussion without sounding accusatory or otherwise negative.
2. Listen with an open mind. What might be small things to you could be huge for them. Knowing that they are being heard can be a relief and large burden off a child’s shoulders. Kids have a lot on their minds in today’s world- let’s help them take a bit off them. Don’t judge, just be there. When a child knows that someone is listening, not judging them for their thoughts and worries, it can be more helpful than you know.
3. Help them find ways to cope. Every child is different, and so are their coping skills. Some like to write about what is on their mind, some like to draw, walk, run, or even make pottery. It allows them to use nervous energy to make something that they can enjoy or just get the energy out of their body.
This activity usually helps them feel better afterward. You may need to let your child experiment with different things to let them find the best thing that works, but this is okay. It may take time to find something that allows them to express their emotion in a way that is good for them.
4. Look at your mental health and coping skills- are you mentally healthy and using good coping skills? This can go a long way in helping your child. If you have mental health issues of your own, look at how you are handling them. If you are on medications, are you taking them? Are they helping? If not, maybe it’s time to recheck the dosage. Have you been to therapy lately? Taking care of yourself can help you be better equipped to take care of an anxious child.
Are your coping skills healthy? Stress eating is joked about among many, but it’s not exactly great for you. Do you smoke and/or use other substances to ease stress, anger or other negative emotions? Your body may not show it now, but in later years, you may see the damage that those choices can cause. It may be time to make some changes to your coping skills to be healthier- not just to model for your child, but also for yourself.
5. Don’t be afraid to get outside help. Sometimes our children have bigger worries, thoughts, etc. than we are able to help them with. This doesn’t mean we are “bad parents”. It just means that there is someone out there that can help them learn to re-frame their thinking. Most parents are not trained therapists or psychologists.
Please check your child’s health insurance coverage before seeking assistance so there aren’t any surprises later. It may take one or two tries before finding the right person to help your child, but he or she is out there. Therapy can be a great tool to help anxiety and/or other issues with children.
Anxiety is Treatable
Millions of people, from children to the elderly have some form of anxiety. Some take daily medications to help with it, many do not. This depends on the severity of the anxiety and other factors. Please discuss this with your child’s doctor. Anxiety is treatable and many live a fully functioning life with it. No one should be shamed or left behind in life because of it.
Your child may need accommodations in school due to anxiety, again, due to the severity and how it affects him/her in class and their schoolwork. If this is an issue, please contact their counselor about an IEP (Individual Education Plan). This can help greatly in decreasing anxiety before/during class presentations, projects, etc.
There are deep breathing exercises and meditations that can help. Your child can also do yoga to help with anxiety, there are many apps and videos on YouTube.
Children with anxiety just need a little extra care and patience. That can help them go a long way.