How to Teach Your Kids to Cope with Anxiety in a Healthy Way
Mental Health Writer Patrick Bailey explores ways in which parents can help children who may have anxiety problems. He says, some intuitive parents take care of their anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) through counseling so they can take care of their children with the same signs and symptoms. Others are unaware such problems exist.
Question: Do parents notice signs of childhood anxiety or OCD?
Answer: Many parents are not aware that their children are experiencing such conditions.
Younger children and children in their teens with anxiety or OCD might not understand what’s happening to them. Some might realize that things are different, but try to hide them or cope on their own.
As adults, people may reflect on those years. They could be trying to determine how old they were when they first recognized that something was not right – that they were experiencing anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Children often don’t have the language or experience to recognize anxiety and OCDs. It’s maybe not surprising, then, that the child’s parents might not recognize or fully acknowledge these conditions in their children as well.
For example: As a child, someone might believe that something bad would happen to her if she didn’t rewash her hands and turn off the faucet in a particular way. After washing, she was also compelled to rehang the hand towel, but not before touching the towel lightly three times. The child said that these actions always interfered with her playtime and were a bother but felt she needed to perform them to keep her safe.What many parents may not realize is that anxiety and OCD in children are very treatable.There are support groups that show success. Members of these groups find they are not alone fighting anxiety, as many of their peers fight the same or similar battles.
Healthy Coping Skills for Children with Anxiety
Children and teens can learn tips for managing stress and anxiety that are simple, effective, and safe. Learning at an early age to manage anxiety can carry into the adult years when they face other complex and challenging problems.
Effective stress management can prevent adults from seeking comfort in alcohol, becoming addicted, and needing the services of inpatient alcohol treatment to solve their dependence on the substance. It can teach children the skills they need to alleviate anxiety and feel better.
According to Child Mind Institute, parents can help children manage their stress and anxiety by:
- Urging children to confront stressors that give them anxiety. They can encourage them not to avoid situations that may make the child anxious to give them experience in dealing with stress.
- Avoiding making promises. Parents can tell their children that although they can’t guarantee what’s going to happen, they will love and support them regardless of what occurs.
- Listening and practicing empathy when trying to validate their children’s feelings and when they’re trying to face their fears.
- Asking open-ended questions. Instead of asking leading questions such as, “Are you anxious about the concert?,” parents can ask, “How do you feel about performing in the concert?”
- Being careful not to reinforce fears and saying things such as, “Well, maybe this is something to fear.”
- Encouraging children to tolerate anxiety and doing what needs to be done, saying that there’s a good chance that they’ll feel better after performing the act that gives them anxiety.
- Exploring with children what would happen if their fears became real. They can ask them what they would do. They can help them make plans in case their fears become a reality.
- Serving as good role models. Children watch the reactions of parents and how they handle their anxieties. Parents can show children how they manage stress calmly and thoughtfully and how they manage their fears and children may do the same.
- Teaching children deep breathing exercises and other stress management techniques before a potentially stressful event.
- Suggesting that children listen to favorite music, envision favorite places, or perform other calming activities when anxiety strikes.
- Working with children to write down what makes them anxious and possible solutions for this anxiety. They can write these down and keep them as reminders in difficult times.
- Helping children find pastimes that boost their self-esteem, reduce their anxiety, and keep them busy.
If a child has anxiety or an obsessive-compulsive disorder, it can affect the entire family. Fortunately, there are ways children and their families can address and manage the conditions before they harm other areas of their lives.