If you want to help your teen or child deal with anxiety, you are not alone. As many as one in eight school children suffer from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is among the most common reasons people seek counseling.
Everyone experiences anxiety at some point. Though it doesn’t feel good, anxiety is a response to a perceived threat that propels a person to act by fleeing the threat, freezing, or fighting it. In this way, anxiety is critical for survival.
A healthy dose of anxiety protects us from danger, is manageable, and limited to specific situations. With excessive anxiety, a person may over-estimate the sense of danger while underestimating her ability to deal with it. To prevent feeling anxious, a person may avoid situations that provoke anxiety. Avoidant behavior only makes the situation worse, allowing fear to gain control and mount. High anxiety is an exhausting mindset that takes a toll physically, emotionally, and mentally.
If you are concerned about your teen or child’s anxiety, you can help. To start, reflect on your own parenting style so you don’t unintentionally respond to your child’s worries in ways that encourage anxiety. Here are some things to consider:
* Children easily pick up verbal and non-verbal clues and mirror the behavior of their parents. Think about how you react when overwhelmed and afraid. Consider what your response might teach your child.
* Are you overly protective? Do you encourage your child to avoid anxiety provoking situations? When you give your child permission to avoid difficult situations, you are inadvertently reinforcing her worries and preventing her from developing coping skills to face her fears.
* Do you rush to fix problems when your child is anxious or upset? If so, you may prevent your child from learning how to tolerate difficult feelings. You may also be communicating that you don’t feel your child is capable of solving problems on her own.
Instead, strive to nurture your child or teen to be confident, self-reliant, and resilient by giving her tools to face her fears. Here are some suggestions:
* Communicate a positive message that indicates you understand she may be afraid but are confident in her ability to handle the situation. Highlight past successes.
* Encourage your child to problem-solve how to manage difficult feelings and situations. Help her anticipate environments in which she may be anxious and brainstorm possible solutions together before a crisis develops.
* Teach your child to self-soothe when overly anxious or distressed. Encourage her to go to a calm place or pursue activities that can help her relax.
* Help your child talk back to her fears. Help her understand exactly what she is worried about and why. Ask her what are the chances it will happen? What else could happen? So what if it happens?
* Prevent stress by making sure your child or teen has downtime and opportunities to relax.