Children can become scared, worried and concerned at different points in their life and it is only natural for parents to want to help. As a parent you want to see your child grow into a happy and confident individual. Their self-esteem and wellbeing is so important and shapes who they will become as an adult.
Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of nervousness and distress which both children and adults feel as a normal part of life. For example, many individuals feel somewhat 'on edge' and experience a sense of discomfort when they are in unfamiliar situations such as large parties or starting a new job. When we experience these feelings in small amounts this can be helpful as it makes us consider our actions to try and make a good impression.
However, some children and adults suffer from extreme anxiety and feel overwhelming stress levels in new situations or times of uncertainty. In these instances seeking assistance from a Mental Health professional, such as a Psychologist, can be helpful to learn strategies to cope and manage anxiety symptoms.
To teach your child to feel confident and resilient you can start by helping them in five simple ways:
1. Educate about the worry - Sometimes a small amount of age appropriate information can help your child feel better. For instance, if your child is scared of thunderstorms you can teach them in basic terms that there is nothing to be afraid of. E.g. Explain to them that the clouds rub together and make noise just like when we scrunch up paper. "We can't be hurt while we are inside the house. It’s just noise".
2. Encourage your child to cope with their fears - Avoiding situations which are not dangerous only prolongs the problem. Avoiding teaches them they are not safe and they need to stay away. Instead, gradually encourage your child to confront the situations they are scared of and they will learn they are safe and can cope. For example, if your child is afraid of dogs first show them pictures of friendly dogs. Then build on that by looking at videos together and visiting pet stores to see the puppies behind the glass. Eventually build up to the real thing, but only ever put the child in a situation in which they are safe.
3. Praise your child for being brave in difficult situations - When your child achieves a bravery goal or attempts something difficult praise and reward them. Be explicit and show emotion so they know how much it means. "Wow! I am so proud of you for talking in front of your class. That is a difficult thing to do but you did it anyway". This gives your child important feedback and encourages them to continue.
4. Talk about your own helpful thoughts to ease worries - Showing your child that you use positive self-talk to cope in day to day life will help them learn to do it also. Verbalise your own coping strategies and they will absorb it like a sponge. e.g. "I was a little bit nervous in my meeting today but I thought to myself 'I can do this and I am good at my job'. I felt much better after that".
5. Show your child how to reassure themselves rather than always relying on you - Sometimes children actively seek reassurance for the same thing over and over. If you notice your child is always worrying and asking you the same questions when they are scared you may need to get them to self-reassure more. For instance, if your child often worries that you will not be back to get them at the end of the day and always asks if you will definitely come to pick them up after school you could say "Remember we spoke about that yesterday. What did I say then?". Get your child to identify what you said the day before and repeat it to them self. e.g. "Mummy always comes to get me. She would never leave me behind". Using visuals and picture stories can also reinforce these ideas. Doing this helps your child to use positive self-talk to cope independently.
If your child is struggling with anxiety please call us on 02 4929 2223 and our Child & Adolescent Psychologist would be happy to help.
Child Psychologist Daniel Wendt is the Principal Clinical Psychologist of Oracle Psychology in Newcastle, NSW.