All children will have situations or periods of time that are worrisome and stressful. A child who is feeling worried or anxious may communicate these feelings through disturbances in sleep patterns, changes in eating habits, and/or reports of physical complaints. How to help a child navigate through worry, stress, and anxiety can depend largely on the situation and the child; however, here are some general things to consider when supporting children that may be experiencing anxiety:
- Teach and model emotion vocabulary. Children commonly communicate anger or sadness when their feelings may more accurately be described as disappointed, embarrassed, etc. Correctly labeling helps build understanding and validates feelings.
- Avoid enabling avoidance behaviors and foster confidence. Seeing a child struggle is difficult, but over-reassuring, giving all of the answers, and encouraging or enabling avoidance behaviors can exacerbate anxiety. The goal is to directly and indirectly send the message that you believe that the child can handle stressful situations.
- Remind the child of all of the people that keep her/him safe and make sure that his/her own name is on that list. It can be visually powerful for children to see the names of all of the people that are on their “team” and to also be reminded that they effectively take care of themselves through many decisions on a daily basis.
- Teach and practice positive and healthy coping strategies. Teach children one or two strategies and practice with them. For example, practice deep breathing and counting with them. For younger children, you can make this practice more interesting by showing them how to inhale and exhale deeply while using bubbles or pinwheels. Additionally, if you do an internet search of “guided relaxation for kids” there are several videos and audio recordings that help kids practice strategies in a kid-friendly way.