Just like adults do, it’s normal for children to feel afraid sometimes. The world is a scary place to be and children don’t have much in the way of experience. In fact, more than anything, children are right to feel anxious and afraid in life and it’s up to us as parents to do all that we can to make sure that we support them and minimize their fear.
Some fear is a good thing, of course, such as the fear of walking into traffic or the fear of year 6 residential trips that they have never been on before. But anxiety can eat away at a person and it’s even worse when it’s a child that is feeling it. They will be unable to articulate that emotion and an anxious child may well react in a way that isn’t favorable. So, with that in mind let’s take a look at how you can help your anxious child.
- Validate how they feel. A child doesn’t need to be told they are being silly or irrational when they are just trying to tell you that they are worried. Yes, it may come with big emotions and big reactions, but invalidating that experience doesn’t help anyone and it certainly won’t help your child. Instead of telling them that their feelings are no big deal, echo their emotion and tell them that you understand it. Voice it back to them so that they know you get it.
- Talk about why anxiety can be a good thing. Children who are developing fight, flight or freeze are learning between all three and it’s not the easiest thing to learn. They need to understand that their brains will signal these things and sometimes, that’s okay! Anxiety is the gut instinct and if they can understand why it’s appearing, they will find it much easier to manage themselves. Ask them whether their brain is giving them a real alarm (such as life or death) or if it’s a pretend alarm (such as being nervous about a test).
- Talk through negative thinking. Negative thoughts can be intrusive for children and if you make sure to talk them through those thoughts, they become far less scary. Children can end up in a spiral of sadness if the negative thinking overtakes them but when you catch it early, you can talk through it together.
- Talk about deep breathing. Children are never too young for meditation. There are studies that show that deep breathing together can help to curb scary depression symptoms and help them to ground themselves; a must for a scared child. You can teach them all about how to breathe deeply and slowly and how they should feel their heart rate while they do it. You want to teach them to stop the racing and bring control back to themselves.
Anxiety isn’t something that goes away overnight but you can certainly help your little one to feel better about it. Be there for them now and they’ll be more secure later.