It is important for parents to keep in mind that occasional experiences of fear and anxiety are a normal part of the developmental process. It is not uncommon for a young child to be afraid of the dark or to feel mild distress when separating from a parent or caregiver. Anxiety is a normal and adaptive system in our body that tells us when we are in danger. Therefore, dealing with anxiety never involves eliminating it, but rather managing it.
If you are parenting a child that is experiencing anxiety, know that you are not alone-and that there are a variety of effective ways that you can work together with your child to manage their anxiety.
Don’t Dismiss Their Feelings: Telling your child not to worry may make them feel like they are doing something wrong by feeling anxious. Encourage your child to share their thoughts and feelings with you.
Offer Comfort and Distraction: Try to do something your child enjoys, like playing a favorite game or reading a book together. Try finding books or games meant to help with relaxation such as Breathe by Scott Magoon.
Establish Regular Movement Practices: Movement and exercise can be one of the most effective ways to manage anxiety. It can boost a child’s mood and give them an opportunity to shift their perspective. Establishing enjoyable movement practices that you can engage in together with your child. It can also be an excellent way to spend quality time together.
Avoid Overscheduling: Too many activities can easily lead to stress and anxiety in children. Just as grownups need some downtime after work and on weekends, children also need quiet time to decompress and just “be” sometimes.
Establish Routines for Sleep and Meals: Try your best to ensure your child has healthy eating habits and is getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Not getting enough rest or eating nutritious meals at regular intervals can contribute to your child’s stress. If your child feels good, they will be better equipped to work through whatever is bothering him. Try to stick to routines when it comes to bedtime and meals
Be a Role Model for Your Child: Always keep in mind that your child is observing how you handle your own stress and anxiety as well as how you handle theirs. You can set the tone for how your family deals with anxiety. Try to stay calm when your child is experiencing stress or anxiety. Turn off the TV, play some soothing music, and try modelling practices such as taking a few deep breaths, doing some stretching or movement practices and checking in with your child on how they are feeling.
Practice Breathing Together: This will take practice and commitment but showing your child how to use their breath to work through moments of anxiety can have a significant impact. Try working on some breathing techniques when your child feels calm, as they will then find it easier and more natural to turn to these practices during times they are experiencing anxiety. Find a time each day that you can commit to 3 sets of ten “in breaths” and ten “out breaths”. Persist, and see what you notice. The morning is my favorite time to practice breath work. Before bedtime can be a good time to show your child some breathing techniques.
Written by Kerri Hill, Registered Psychologist (Provisional) with Wildflowers