Help an Anxious Child in Anxious Times

by | Nov 7, 2020 | Anxiety, Blog, COVID19, Crisis, Parenting

It has been an anxiety producing year and it’s hard to know how to help an anxious child navigate this mess. So much anxiety comes from fear of the unknown, feeling a lack of power, or fearing that bad things will happen as a result of having no control over their environment or other people’s behaviors. Anyone else feeling that in 2020?

When I am working with children who are struggling with anxiety, one of the first things we talk about is the subject of control. Our brains tend to focus on the negatives and the things that we actually do not have control over. In ancient times, this helped keep us safe, and most importantly alive!  We needed to be hyper aware of possible dangers around us, such as dangerous snakes, poisonous berries, or a stormy, cold night. But in modern times, focusing on the negative can hinder our ability to feel like we have power over our worlds and can send us spiraling into anxiety.  Right now our kids are living in a reality where there is a lot that is outside of their control. So how do we stop them from spiraling into anxiety?

1. “What are you anxious about?”

Have your child write down all the things that they are worried about.  Have them separate them into “Things I CAN control and things I CAN’T control”.  Having a visual will help their brain see that they may have more areas of control than they think and you can both begin to brainstorm ways to cope for the things that are beyond your control. 

2. Help your child focus beyond anxiety

Focusing on what we are thankful for can help broaden our perspective and help nourish the optimistic part of our brains.  Get your family a gratitude journal and set a time each day to write something you are grateful for.  You may be surprised to see how much more meaningful your journals become as time goes on. 

3. Encourage your child to speak up and speak out

What better way to feel like you have control than to use your voice to promote change and gain support! If your child is stuck in a negative mindstate due to circumstances outside their control, help them find ways to ask for help, wonder how they can get more involved, or even be a part of a needed change!

4. Give Your Child Choices

Every human needs to feel that they have power over their mind and body.  This is no different for children.  Give your child choices with both big and small decisions.  From “what color do you want to paint your room?” to “What chores do you want to be responsible for?”.

5. Get creative in letting anxiety go 

There is something about creating a physical representation of letting things go!  Making something abstract into a concrete activity can lift a mental and physical load of an anxious child.  One idea is to write their worries on a piece of paper and place those worries in a container of their choice, they can get them back on their terms.  Want something more permanent? Purchase flying wish paper!  Write their worries on the paper, light them on fire and watch them fly off into the air!  Flying wish paper is an eco-friendly alternative to releasing balloons…and they are so cool!

By helping anxious children focus on what they CAN control, we can help restore that feeling of being in charge and in turn they will be more flexible and accepting of the things that they can’t control.  The results? A more flexible, less anxious, and more resilient child!  Psst…These tips work on grownups too! 

Looking for more 2020 related parenting advice? Check out Parenting During a Pandemic: What Your Therapist Wants You to Remember or 7 Ways to Set Screen Time Boundaries during COVID19 .

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