Fears, Jeers, and Tears – Helping Our Kids Manage Anxiety

It’s almost Halloween – the perfect time to talk about our children’s anxieties and fears.  Sometimes children are carefree, and other times they may be overwhelmed with fear. Even when we do our very best to protect children from stressors and scary events, they still develop fears that can seem paralyzing.  What can we do to help?

How Children Form Anxieties

Anxieties are a normal part of day-to-day life.  Understanding how fears are formed can help to inform how to help children in the moment.

Children can become anxious and fearful in situations where they’re taught to feel that way. They’re also very intuitive and can pick up on the emotions of others. If you’re acting fearful and afraid in a certain situation, they may learn to have the same behavior without even realizing it.

Children can also learn anxiety from media sources such as television, movies, or video games. For example, TV shows and video games that are meant for older children or adults often contain scenes of suspense, horror or violence that can severely frighten a young child. As a result, they can develop many anxieties from it.  

 How To Manage Anxieties

Once a child has anxieties, there are many options for handling the situation.  What works for one child may not work for another. Just keep searching for a solution that works for you and your family.

 Here are some strategies you can use to help your child overcome their anxieties:

  1. Help your child relax. A child will feel anxiety when they’re stressed. Explore different options for helping your child relax, then allow them to enjoy these relaxing games or hobbies. The activity you choose may be different for every child, or different depending on the day.  Options can include deep breathing, running cold water on your child’s hands, asking your child to give themselves a tight squeeze or a butterfly hug, listening to a favorite song, or squeezing a stress ball.  Keep in mind – what makes you feel relaxed may not help your child.  It may take some trial and error to find the thing that calms your child, and something that works in one environment may not work in all environments. 
  2.   Find a distraction. When your child feels anxious all of a sudden, do something to distract them from the situation at hand. If you’re out in public and they start to panic, perhaps you can engage them in a conversation about something they like or distract them with a toy or something of interest in your surroundings. If you’re at home, try a fun game.
  3.   Avoid pushing your children. You might find that you’re pushing your child to behave a certain way without ever realizing it. It’s more common than you think! Be positive around your child and free them from unnecessary pressure.

Listen to your child.  When they say repeatedly that they don’t want to participate in an activity, week after week, consider that this activity might not be the right fit for them at this time.  If the anxiety is around attending school, ask for a meeting with your child’s teacher.  Ask your child what’s going on with real curiosity, without adult theories (i.e.  “I’ve noticed that getting to school is difficult for you right now.  What’s up?”).  Problem solve together on how things could be improved.

  1.   Schedule “worry time.” This activity works well for adult anxieties too. Schedule a time during the day that is designated “worry time,” where your child can worry and vent. Your job is to listen to your child and help them sort out their feelings.  This technique is also helpful because, when a child is worrying, you can tell them that they’re allowed to worry but they just need to wait for the designated time. They may not even feel worried anymore when the time comes.

Another option is to ask your child to journal their fears, and then set aside a time each day (or a few times a week) to look at their journal together.  The idea is to provide a “container” for their fears, so that they’re not oozing all over the place.

  1.   Build confidence. Help your child build their confidence. When you’re feeling confident, it’s difficult to feel anxious or scared. If your child begins to feel confident instead of anxious, they’ll begin to have a positive attitude about themselves. This will also help them when they’re faced with fearful situations again in the future.

One of my favorite ways to build confidence is to “act as if” – pretending to be confident on the outside while they’re waiting for the confident feeling to emerge on the inside.  Many children enjoy creating a confident pose (for example, standing straight, with their hands on their hips) to use in moments of anxiety. 

When you help your child learn how to manage anxieties while they’re young, you also teach them an important skill that will be of great benefit for the rest of their life. Not only will they have a happier childhood, but they’ll also be a stronger, more confident, and happier adult.

Wishing you a boo-tiful Halloween!