September 15, 2020
Managing Worries & Anxiety in children
Does your child worry and feel anxious about certain situations? It can be hard to know how to support them; how do we value their worries without giving them power? Here are 5 ideas which focus on managing worries in children and how you can respond to their worries:
1. Think about the basics
Making sure your child has a solid foundation and the basics are in place is an essential place to start. We all know the impact a lack of sleep has on our thinking and mood; reflect on getting the basics right for your child to make them feel as settled as possible. Are they getting enough sleep, a balanced diet, staying hydrated, enough downtime and exercise or time outside? Making changes in these basics can have a noticeable impact on their anxiety levels.
2. Breathing techniques
When anxiety takes hold of us our body tenses up and we go into fight, flight or freeze mode. We can lose the ability to think rationally. Controlled breathing is a simple yet effective way to help regulate your body’s reaction and relax. Simply telling your child to breathe deeply doesn’t always cut it though; here are two simple breathing techniques to try with your child:
Spread out one hand to make a starfish and with the other hand use your index finger to trace up and down your thumb and fingers. As you move up you breathe in, pause at the top and then as you move down breathe out. Using the ‘starfish’ means your child is encouraged to do this 5 times up and down each finger and thumb.
Flower & Candle
Ask your child to imagine they have a flower in one hand and a candle in the other. Bring the flower to your nose and breathe in deeply to smell it, then move the candle close and breathe our deeply to blow it out.
3. Don’t dismiss their worries
It’s important to find ways to value and listen to your child’s worries. Rather than ‘Don’t be silly’, ‘It will be fine’ and ‘You’re worrying about nothing’, try and find responses which recognise the worry without empowering their fear. ‘Let’s talk about it’, ‘I know it’s hard’ and ‘How can I help?’. It’s also helpful to remind them of previous times they’ve worried or been anxious and the outcome was positive. ‘Remember when you felt this way about… X’.
4. Try not to avoid the problem
Seeing your child suffer with anxiety can be hard. It’s easy to want to protect them from having to experience this through avoiding the very thing which induces the anxiety. This fixes the short term problem but can actually help to fuel the anxiety and reinforce the negative belief your child holds around the activity. Try using the ladder technique to slowly introduce your child to measured risk in a safe way. If they are anxious about swimming for example, decide together what the first step on the ladder might be – watching a sibling’s swimming lesson and then work up the next steps, dipping their toes in, getting their whole body wet until they become comfortable enough to actually swim.
5. Focus on the outcome not the possibility
Most worries come in two parts; if X happens, I won’t be able to survive. This might sound different for each child but the worry usually follows a similar structure. We often focus on the first part ‘if X happens’ by reassuring our child that X won’t happen and therefore they don’t need to worry about it. This doesn’t actually bust the root of the anxiety it just seeks to reassure them that it won’t happen. Take the power away from your child’s anxieties by focusing on the second part. If X did happen, what then? Would you be able to cope? By talking through the outcome your child will see that although it might be uncomfortable, they could cope and if they have thought through what they would do they no longer fear the outcome as much.
We understand that managing worries in children can be difficult and you can feel like you are hitting a brick wall. By trying the 5 ideas above you will find yourself supporting your child in taking away the power their worries seem to have over them. These strategies also work just as well for us adults as well our children.
Louise’s recent Instagram Live on this topic can be found here.
This blog post was written by Louise Treherne, Director of Character Education at Role Models. Louise has a degree in Psychology, 12 years experience as a teacher and 5 years as a Senior Deputy Head at a London Prep school. She now works as a Professional Coach and Educational Consultant.