Keeping Your Cool: How To Help Your Child Handle Anxiety

Adolescent anxiety is not a new occurrence, but for many parents, it may seem like it comes out of nowhere. One day you have a happy, well-adjusted child, and the next they are dealing with anger, sleep issues, and problems at school. Because there are many causes for anxiety (school pressures, problems with friends, moving to a new place, etc.) and because it can be very tricky to handle, it’s important to remember to stay calm and try as many different ways as possible to help your child feel better. They may not even realize what the problem is, so the faster you can help them get a handle on their feelings, the better.

Keep in mind that often, you can’t eliminate anxiety altogether. The most you can do is help your child find ways to de-stress, prevent those feelings, and learn how to work through them when they do come. Here are a few tips on how to do just that.

Help them cope

Most experts agree that one of the best things you can do for your child who is anxious is help them cope with their feelings. This means not avoiding the things that trigger anxiety, but rather supporting them as they face them head on. It may help your child in the moment to remove themselves from the situation, but in the long run, it’s almost always better to stay and face whatever is causing those feelings. 

Some of the more successful coping mechanisms include getting daily exercise (which can help the body release hormones that make us happy), eating well-balanced meals, getting enough sleep, and staying away from caffeine, which can make stress or anxiety worse. You can also talk to your child about finding a “happy place”–in other words, a thought or image that never fails to make them smile–and utilizing it when they begin to feel anxious. 

You might incorporate meditation or yoga into their daily exercise routine, which can help promote mindfulness and help them focus on the present rather than worry about the future or something that already happened.

Help build confidence

Many children lack the self-confidence to tell themselves that they can get through whatever is causing them to be worried, and while you can’t assure them that what they’re anxious about will never happen, you can help build up their self-esteem so that they’ll be confident enough to work through it when the time comes. This can be done by teaching them a new skill, or enrolling them in a sports or dance program. 

Don’t feed the beast

Anxiety shows itself in a number of ways in children, including anger, meltdowns, and sudden withdrawal. Instead of trying to guess what’s got your child upset by asking leading questions–such as “Are you scared no one will like you in your new class?”–keep your questions vague and ask your child to talk about what’s on their mind.

Reassure your child

A child who worries a lot may feel that they are not “normal” or that no one will like them. Reassure your child that worrying is a part of life, that it happens to everyone, and that some people are a bit more sensitive to it than others are. Let him know that it’s okay to be scared sometimes, but that you are there to help him through those moments. Show him how confident you are that he can cope with it, himself.

Remember, anxiety is not uncommon in children, but if you feel your child is suffering to the point that it’s affecting their grades or their health, it may be time to talk to a therapist or the family doctor.