Anxiety is part of being human. We all have things we worry about – both rationally and irrationally. Right now it feels like there is an awful lot to worry about rationally. These tips on how to help a worried child can make a world of difference as so many of us are worrying about the future right now and our kids pick up on that anxiety. Scroll to the end of the post for picture book recommendations.
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Worried Children: Tips for Helping Kids Cope with Anxiety
Even though adults have more responsibility, anxiety in kids is a common problem, in 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!
Give kids structure to prevent anxiety
What causes anxiety in children? 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.
Reduce worry by giving kids choices
It’s hard to know how to help a child with anxiety, but offering choices is often a good place to start.
Choices offer an opportunity 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 to process worries
Kids are exposed to all sorts of information and situations they have never seen before every single day.
Providing down time to process new information helps a child with anxiety sort through information and evaluate feelings. Sorting through new facts and feelings helps kids stay calm. This time also allows them to figure out how to react to new situations.
Down time also gives children time for that all-important pretend play that can conquer fear.
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. A clearly defined “job” often reduces anxiety in children.
For this to work, assign children simple 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!
What helps a child with anxiety? Spending 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.
Monitor your child’s worries
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.
Watch for physical symptoms like headaches and stomach aches. These may signal that your child is worried about something that they aren’t talking about. It is, of course, important to also watch for medical causes for these symptoms.
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.
Validate your child’s fears
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 stories of your own childhood worries
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.
Help your worried child 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.
Books to Help a Worried Child
Here are some books that may help your child deal with their worries and anxiety.
When My Worries Get Too Big by Kari Dunn Buron. This illustrated children’s book includes teaching activities.
Help Your Dragon Deal with Anxiety by Steve Herman features an adorable pet dragon – who worries too much. I love how this book uses a worried pet to help children learn how to tame their own fears.
Andi Green’s Don’t Feed the WorryBug teaches children that worries are normal, but you don’t want them to take over your life.
Suzanne Chiew offers a concrete strategy for coping with anxiety in The Worry Box. Sean Julian’s sweet illustrations offer additional comfort.
Dawn Huebner’s What to Do When You Worry Too Much guides children through anxiety reducing written activities. Bonnie Matthews’ illustrations offer gentle humor.
Mindfulness is a powerful antidote to worry and stress! Gail Silver’s Mindful Bea and the Worry Tree teaches concrete mindfulness techniques. Franziska Hollbacher’s illustrations add depth to the story.
How do you help your kids cope with anxiety and conquer their fears?
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