None of us wants to see our child unhappy, but the best way to help kids overcome anxiety isn’t to try to remove stressors that trigger it. As when children are chronically anxious even the most well-meaning parents, who of course don’t want their child to suffer can fall into a negative cycle and often exacerbate the issue. It can happen when parents or carers, anticipating a child’s fears, try to protect them from them. Here are pointers for helping children escape the cycle of anxiety.
Five ways to ease your child’s worries, phobias and fears
Reverse the Roles
Don’t avoid things just because they make a child anxious. Helping children avoid the things they are afraid of will make them feel better in the short term, but it reinforces the anxiety over the long run.
A fear of masks, or anyone in a costume for example or , when someone is not what they seems – is common and unpredictable. So, if daddy say was in a Halloween mask and produces a scream, have dad take it off, then let your child touch it, explore it and understand its a costume. By not avoiding the thing she’s afraid of, she’s learned a coping mechanism.
Talk About It
Good listening skills are essential. Sit down and chat during the day, so it’s not odd to talk about your child’s worries. Try to express positive—but realistic—expectations. You can’t promise a child that his fears are unrealistic—that he won’t fail a test, that he’ll have fun at a party, or that another child won’t laugh at him. But by offering your child experiences where they can learn how to deal with something unfamiliar you are giving them useful tools for coping in the future. You can express confidence that they’re going to be okay, will be able to manage it, and that, if they face their fears, the anxiety level will drop over time. This gives them confidence that your expectations are realistic, and that you’re not going to ask them to do something they can’t handle.
Look for Tell-Tale Signs
Some children won’t want to let on what they are afraid of, in case it worries you. Sleeplessness, tummy pains, headaches and nightmares might all be clues. So no matter how silly and irrational you may think a child’s fear is, it’s important not to dismiss or make fun of it. Instead, let your child tell you what makes her afraid, offer reassurance and avoid doing anything that could build upon her fears. For example, if your child is afraid of monsters under their bed, using a ‘monster broom’ to sweep them away could encourage the fear, whereas looking under the bed and explaining that you know there is no monster there, but that you are checking simply because your child wants you to, makes it a logical and proactive process.
Set an Example
While fears and anxiety cannot be inherited, they can be learned, infectious and even runs in families, so if you wear your fears on your sleeve your child may pick up on how you respond to fears and anxiety. So, watch out for any behaviours you have that may encourage fear in your child – perhaps you dislike dogs or spiders or even the dark. To break the cycle, don’t pretend that you never have fears, worries and concerns. Instead, set a good example by showing your child how you face up to your fear by dealing with it rather than avoiding it. Plus, if you learn to overcome your own fears, in the process you will come to understand what it takes to face up to fears and even be able to explain to your child how they can be as brave as Mummy or Daddy and face their fears too.
Praise and attention are one of the most effective ways to influence a child’s behaviours. Giving simple rewards – making cakes together for instance – are a good way to show how well they have done when reaching specific goals.