It can be frustrating to watch your once confident and care free child pull back as fear and worry take over. In my clinical experience I have found that some people are more prone to anxiety than others. If a child is anxious, he or she may continue to experience anxiety throughout his or her life cycle. Therefore, the goal is not to eliminate fear or worry, but to help your child become comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Here are a few tips that I have found to help an anxious child:
Establish a routine. All children, not just those prone to anxiety, thrive in a consistent environment. One in which they know what to expect day to day. IF you have a busy household it may be difficult to have each day be the same; however, you can mitigate the chaos with a written schedule. It can be as simple as writing out daily schedules on a whiteboard, or as tedious as posting a monthly calendar on a wall.
Focus on sleep quality. Sleep is incredibly important for everyone. Poor sleep can cause mental and physical health problems. Each child, depending on his or her age or personal needs, require different amounts of sleep. It is recommended that school age children get 9-11 hours of sleep per night. I recommend establishing a sleep routine that begins one hour before bed and implementing the same bed time each night of the week, which includes the weekend. For more detailed information on improving sleep click here.
Prepare your child for daily events and activities. Anxious children struggle with the unknown. It can be helpful to run through the day’s activities with your child, “You stay in aftercare today and I’ll pick you up at 5. Then we will go straight to soccer before we get home”. Even if you think that your child already knows what to expect, it helps to reduce fear and worry to go over the day’s activities.
Validate your child’s feelings. Your child’s worries might seem silly or trivial to you. You might be tempted to tell your child not to worry. Simply telling an anxious child not to worry is not only ineffective, it inadvertently invalidates your child’s feelings. Validation is simply acknowledging your child’s feelings. You can reply to a worry by replying “It sounds like you are worried about school today”. It is a way to let your child know that you understand his or her feelings. Validating your child’s feelings helps him or her feel understood and creates an environment of acknowledgement. For more on how to validate your child’s feelings click here.
Managing anxiety, fears and worries is a difficult job for any adult, let along a child. I encourage you to be patient and encouraging. The challenge is to provide a consistent environment and help your child develop skills that will help him or her cope with the unknown.