Even children without a formal anxiety diagnosis can still experience anxiety from time to time. Helping your child to cope with his feelings of nervousness or to work on his fears can be a challenge. Whether he is nervous about swim lessons or has a hard time in social situations or large groups, you can help him to navigate his feelings by talking with him and helping him to learn strategies to tackle his worries.
- Avoid avoidance. It can be easy to pull your child out of situations that make her nervous. If the water is a source of fear and anxiety for her, you may feel tempted to take swim lessons off the schedule. If crowds of kids make her feel inhibited and on edge, you may start avoiding birthday parties and family friendly attractions. But avoiding these situations will only reinforce her anxiety. Allowing her to expose herself gradually to, for example, the water, will help her to conquer her fears. If she puts her feet in and feels scared, but keeps them in for a few minutes, her anxiety will dissipate as the body’s nervous system response dies down. She’ll then learn that putting her feet in isn’t so scary, and will feel ready to move on to the next step!
- It’s OK to make mistakes. Some kids put a tremendous amount of pressure to do things perfectly, and that can add to their feelings of anxiety. Let your child know that if he doesn’t build the perfect tower, complete the perfect tumble, or learn at the same rate as his friend at preschool, that’s OK. You can also tell him about mistakes you’ve made in your own life, and let him know that everyone makes mistakes from time to time.
- Remember the positives. If a child is having a hard time because of anxiety over a certain situation, praising him when he make an effort to face his fear, or for giving things a try even when they don’t work out perfectly, can make him feel more confident. This kind of praise can let him know that even when he feels anxious or when something goes wrong, his effort and the work he put into a situation are worthy of a reward.
- Carve out time for relaxation. Between daycare and weekend activities, family visits and playdates, kids can begin to feel a bit overwhelmed. It’s important to find time to watch movies with the family, have a dance party, or snuggle up with some books at the end of the day. Bringing down everyone’s anxiety level can help with anxiety levels throughout the day.
- Talk about her feelings. When your child feels anxious or afraid, don’t invalidate her feelings by telling her that she’s not feeling what she’s feeling. Many adults respond to children’s fear by saying, “You’re OK!” or “You’re not really scared!” Instead, talk to your child about her fears and let her look at you as a safe person to go to when she’s anxious and upset.
Supporting your child when he is feeling anxious can help him to develop coping mechanisms that he will use throughout his life, well into adulthood. We all struggle with anxiety from time to time, and learning how to manage our fears at a young age can help us to mature with the tools we need.