Anxiety is part of the normal development of children. Some worry about changes, such as the entry to kindergarten or school, and experience great anxiety when these moments are coming. In other occasions their fears are less concrete and comes from their imagination, such as fear of the dark or monsters. But these fears, although irrational, generates also a great anxiety.
Feeling a little anxiety is normal, but it is also important set the limits to prevent it from developing, because if we don’t do it we end up creating fearful and apprehensive children. The strategy to combat childhood anxiety is not about minimizing or deny it, but validating its existence and teach the child to deal with these feelings.
How transmit to children feelings of safety and peace of mind?
1. “I love you. You're safe.” Anxiety makes us feel insecure, it activates immediately in our brain a warning signal. So, when you notice the first signs of anxiety in your child, embrace him and let him know that he’s safe. This way his brain will calm down and the anxiety will fade away. If necessary, stay next to him for a while.
2. “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Anxiety is basically a state of negative expectation. The person believes that something bad will happen, although can not say exactly what it is. Therefore, it is advisable to help the child identify his worst fears and nightmares. When he realizes that it’s just a feeling, and has nothing to fear about it, anxiety will fade away. You can also help him find a solution if the worst case scenario occur. Knowing in advance how to deal with anxiety can significantly alleviate it.
3. “Let’s count until...” Anxiety grows to the extent we become aware of it. The more we focus in palpitations, nervousness or psychological discomfort, these symptoms will increase. Therefore, a good way to calm anxious children is divert their attention from anxiety. To achieve this you can ask them count the number of people they see with clocks in the waiting room or count the trees if you are traveling by car. The idea is to get them focus on anything else to distract them.
4. “Draw how you feel.” It has been shown that drawing, coloring or just scribbling on a sheet of paper has a surprising calming effect. You can use this activity as a way to calm the anxiety of your child. In addition, drawing is even more effective in young children and is able to express the emotions they have difficulty to put into words because they still have a very limited vocabulary and their emotional intelligence is not quiete developed.
5. “We are inseparable.” In many cases children feel anxious for fear of being abandoned, especially when suffering from what is known as “separation anxiety disorder.” However, as they grow and become aware of the expectations of parents, even these generate anxiety. Therefore, it is important you make feel secure your child and take advantage of any moment to confirm that you are an inseparable team and he can always count on you, regardless of his mistakes. So, he will feel more comfortable knowing that his parents are a safe haven.
6. “Breathe deeply.” It's never too early to teach your child a breathing technique. When we suffer anxiety the pulse quickens, breathing becomes heavy and the brain perceives these changes activating the fight/flight mode, because perceives that we are in danger. Breathing deeply causes these physiological changes go back to normal and the brain understands it was a false alarm and that everything is fine.
7. “Do you remember when ...?” Anxiety often clouds our rationality and erase in a second our memories because we can only think about how we feel bad. But it is likely that in the past we have gone through worst moments. Therefore, it is advisable to remember these moments to anxious children. Remind them, for example, when he went to the dentist and behaved very well, or how good he was the first day of school, despite nervousness. This way the child will recuperate control and self-trust.
8. “Let me know when two minutes have passed.” Anxiety feeds anxiety. Therefore, one of the most effective strategies to eliminate it is to distract attention from the sensations we are feeling. Ask your child concentrate on the watch movement, as long as two minutes have passed. The movement has an almost hypnotic effect that helps relax the mind.
9. “Sometimes concerns are good.” Many people who suffer anxiety feel bad because do not accept those feelings, classifying them as negative and inadequate, and want to get rid of them as soon as possible. Of course, we know that these feelings are not very beautiful, but are there for a reason and we should not deny or resist to them. So, instead of minimizing the feelings of your child, confirm them and explain him that sometimes concerns are good, but in other occasions are simply excessive. Tell him that to avoid feeling like that, the best thing to do is looking for solutions and developing an action plan. This way you move the center of concern that generated anxiety towards the solution, which provides security.
10. “I've passed through that myself too.” When we are anxious we feel oppressed, overwhelmed by our thoughts, as if were keeping us from acting. To break the vicious cycle you can try to make sure that your child will put himself in your shoes. Tell him of that time you too have felt fear and anxiety. This way not only you'll capture his attention and prevent him from worring about symptoms, but you'll also transmit the idea he’s not alone and what he’s experiencing is something normal with which we all had to deal.
10 ways to calm an anxious child
4/ 5Oleh Jennifer Delgado