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How to Help an Anxious Child Thrive

Sweaty palms. Racing heart. Dry mouth. Anxiety goes beyond these physical symptoms to include a fear that often prevents a person from functioning. It’s a common emotion that most people experience at some point in their lives. However, when your child begins to feel it on a daily basis, it’s cause for concern. 

Childhood anxiety can make itself known in several ways, including separation anxiety and social anxiety. It not only affects a child’s well-being, but it can also affect their development. As a parent, it’s important to know how to help an anxious child thrive. Read on to learn strategies for supporting your child through anxious moments and enabling them to build confidence. 

Seek Professional Help If You Need It

You may feel as if you can handle an anxious child’s needs on your own. However, you must recognize when their anxiety is beyond what you can manage. When that’s the case, seeking professional assistance is crucial. Dealing with your child’s anxiety may require talking to a child psychologist or counselor or investigating rehab for depression and anxiety. Professional help can involve therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy, play therapy, or even family therapy. 

Experts in these treatment settings can provide valuable guidance and treatment tailored to your child’s specific needs. They can also help you identify whether the anxiety is a temporary phase or something more persistent, so you can take necessary steps.

Identify Triggers

To effectively assist your child, you should identify their anxiety triggers. Common triggers can include school, social interactions, separation from parents, or specific fears, such as spiders or the dark. Talk to your child about their worries, and try to pinpoint the situations or thoughts that cause them distress.

After identifying their triggers, you can work with your child to find strategies to address them. If your child can’t avoid the triggers altogether, think of ways to make them more tolerable. For example, if your child’s anxiety is triggered by school, you can work with their teachers to create a supportive classroom environment. Or if your child is afraid of the dark, you can get a nightlight for their room to ease the fear. Identifying and addressing triggers can go a long way toward preventing or minimizing anxiety-inducing situations.

Validate Your Child

Validation is a powerful tool when dealing with an anxious child. Let your child know that their feelings are valid and that it’s OK to feel anxious sometimes. Avoid dismissing or trivializing their worries, as this can cause them to internalize their anxiety or feel they can’t talk to you about it.

When your child expresses their anxiety, actively listen to them. Offer empathetic responses, such as “I understand that this is making you feel anxious.” Or maybe say, “It’s normal to feel this way sometimes. We’ll work through it together.” Validation builds trust and helps your child feel safe with expressing their emotions.

Overcome Unhelpful Thinking

Anxiety often involves distorted thinking patterns. A child may overestimate danger or underestimate their ability to cope with a situation. Teaching your child to recognize these unhelpful thinking patterns can be a powerful tool in managing anxiety. 

Talk to your child about their thought processes and encourage them to deeply consider — and even challenge — their anxious beliefs. For instance, if they’re worried about a test, help them understand why they’re concerned and how preparation can ease some of their fears. Considering the evidence in favor of or against a concern can assist your child. This allows them to see that their worries are often based on assumptions rather than facts. 

Build Confidence

Building confidence in your child can enable them to overcome anxiety. When children lack self-confidence, their worries can intensify. Not only is it important to focus on your child’s strengths, but also to encourage them to develop new skills. Praise their efforts, even when they don’t achieve success immediately. This reassurance can boost their self-esteem. 

Additionally, support your child in setting achievable goals. Have them break down large tasks into smaller, manageable steps that they can more easily reach. Then celebrate their progress along the way. Encouraging their accomplishments, however small, will help them develop the self-assurance needed to face their anxieties.

Enable Them to Process Their Emotions

Teach your child to express their feelings and provide a safe space for them to do so. This can be through open conversations, journaling, or artistic outlets like drawing or listening to music. 

Emotions are not bad. It’s necessary for everyone to understand their feelings and work through them, even if they’re scary. Children need to understand that it’s normal to feel a range of emotions, including anxiety, and that these feelings don’t define them. By acknowledging and processing their emotions, your child can develop emotional intelligence. They’ll also learn healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety.

Learning to Thrive With Anxiety

Assisting an anxious child requires a multifaceted approach. It may involve getting professional help if the anxiety is debilitating. If not, you can help your child identify and address their anxiety triggers. It’s also important to validate your child’s emotions, address unhelpful thinking patterns, build confidence, and teach them to work through their emotions. 

By utilizing these strategies, you can provide your child with the support and tools they need to manage their anxiety. Over time, they can develop into confident, resilient individuals. 

Remember that every child is unique. The key is to adapt your approach to their specific needs, offering a loving and understanding environment where they can thrive.

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