Anxiety is part of being human. We all have things we worry about – both rationally and irrationally. Even though adults have more responsibility, kids are susceptible to anxiety, in large part because they have so much less control over their lives than adults do. Other people decide how they will use huge chunks of their time, every single day. Other people decide who they spend their time with. Add to this the fact that their brains are still developing, and it’s easy to see why many kids struggle with anxiety. Luckily there are some simple steps you can take towards helping kids cope with anxiety!
Helping Kids Cope with Anxiety
Here are a few things Mike and I have done to help our kids cope with anxiety and conquer fears.
Give kids structure
Uncertainty is one of the easiest way to trigger anxiety for all ages, and its antidote is structure! When kids know what to expect when, they feel like they have more control over the situation, and because they know what to expect they are less likely to do things that will leave them feeling upset or embarrassed.
Give kids choices
Choices are an easy way for kids to feel like they have some control over a situation. Even when they are given two choices they don’t particularly like, they at least get to choose between two different options. Too many choices can add to a child’s anxiety, so be sure to select choices carefully, and make sure that they are well-defined.
Give kids down time
Kids are exposed to all sorts of information and situations they have never seen before every single day. They need down time to process new information, and to evaluate feelings. Having time to sort through new facts and feelings helps kids stay calm and allows them to figure out how to react to new situations.
Give kids responsibility
Responsibility gives children opportunities to make choices and creates chances for them to have a positive impact on the world around them. Assign children clearly-defined tasks that they are fully capable of performing on their own. Areas of responsibility should include things kids will enjoy (deciding what to cook for dinner on a certain day of the week, for example) as well as more rote tasks such as folding laundry or taking out trash. Getting kids involved in service opportunities is a wonderful way to give them some responsibility!
Spend time in nature
I am convinced that the world would be a better place if each person in the world spent thirty minutes in nature every single day – or even once a week! Spending time with plants and animals has a way of helping us put our worries and sorrows into perspective.
Make sure you know what your children are exposed to – through school, through books, and through media. Talk to your kids about what they see and hear, and how these experiences make them feel.
Listen to your kids
I cook with my kids and craft with my kids because it is fun and educational, but my biggest motivator for both of these activities is that they tend to open up and talk to me while we are doing things together. Choose a mix of activities you enjoy and that your child enjoys, and make sure that you always listen. I love that my nine-year-old now chooses to do her homework on the kitchen floor while I cook dinner – so that she can ask if she has questions with an assignment, but more often to talk to me about things that happened at school. Family walks and parent-child dates are other things we do to give our children opportunities to talk to us.
Kids worry about all sorts of things, and as parents we need to respect their fears. I find that my kids respond well when I listen first and then brainstorm with them about solutions or reasons they maybe don’t need to worry about a particular issue.
Share your story
My kids love hearing stories about my own childhood anxieties! I find that, even when they share fears I had as a kid, talking to them about how I worried about the same thing can make them feel safer and sometimes even laugh.
Make a plan
One easy way to reduce anxiety is to help kids make a plan about what to do if the thing they are worried about actually happens. We have talked about everything from what to do if there is a fire (very important to discuss regardless of anxiety levels) to how to deal with stressful school situations.
How do you help your kids cope with anxiety and conquer their fears?