It can be easy to assume that anxiety, stress and fear are only adult emotional issues, however the truth is that children as young as toddlers can experience these feelings too. In many circumstances they are healthy and normal such as when you leave them with a new baby-sitter or they go off to their first day of Kindergarten. But in other cases, such as a preoccupation with feelings that you might abandon them forever, or if you notice your child is worrying about bigger issues such as money or family problems, it’s time to ease their fears.
The good news is, anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues for adults and children and with early intervention is treatable. Unfortunately, anxious children are often very quiet and their issues can go unnoticed for years. Or, the parents notice the anxiety but let it go thinking the child will “outgrow” the problem. Children with anxiety are often well-mannered in other aspects of their life. Because of this, they are not considered “problem children” and their emotional issues get brushed aside. It is so important to catch and treat emotional problems as early as possible. The sooner the issue is treated the better the chances of the child not having a lifelong issue with anxiety that can often lead to depression in their adult years.
As a parent you have an essential role in helping your child manage anxiety. The treatment starts at home. By practicing coping skills and rewarding brave behavior, children can learn to face fearful situations, gain confidence and take healthy risks.
If you notice your child is struggling with anxiety and undue fear, try the following coping tactics:
- Begin by acknowledging that the fear your child has is real. Although they may be afraid of something unreal (a monster, etc) the feelings they are experiencing are real. But acknowledging that, you are helping them open up and talk about it. Discussing the fear can help take away some of the negativity and can even help them rationalize why the fear is unnecessary. Overall, the fear becomes less powerful when you acknowledge it and talk about it.
- Do not belittle your child. While you think the idea of an alien is ridiculous, it won’t help their fear go away. By dismissing their fear and being demeaning, it only forces the child to keep their feelings inside. This is not healthy and can lead to more damage to their mental health down the road.
- Avoid catering to their fears. If your child is afraid of bees, don’t avoid things like picnics and playgrounds just so the child can never experience them. Do your best to provide support and if a bee or anything else your child fears comes up, gently approach the situation. As a parent you need to stay calm and be an unwavering support system.
- On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the scariest, have your child rate their fears. Doing so, like talking about their fears, can help take away some of their power. You can later talk about why certain fears were rated in comparison to other fears on the list.
- Work with your child to have special coping strategies. Just as you may have when you’re worried about bills, relationships or work issues, teach your child how to make positive affirmations about their life and the situation. Teach them to say or think, “I can do this” before they do something challenging or scary. Use positive mantras like, “I will be fine” and “I am strong.” These coping and relaxation tips can help them overcome the issues themselves when they are not around you or any other support system.
By catching the situation early, all the difference can be made in a child’s life. Handling the fears and anxieties as early as possible sets them up for mental health success from an early age and will provide the skills they need to continue through adulthood.