How to help kids with anxiety
If your kids are anxious about the monster under the bed, not making the team or what's going on in the world, there are techniques to help. Here's what to do
There’s a lot going on in the world now, but being anxious isn’t a new thing for children and will outlive the pandemic. From the monster under the bed to worrying about natural disasters, here’s how to help kids with anxiety.
Step one: Understand that anxiety is an emotion and not a problem
We all feel and see specific levels of anxiety when we do new stuff, and that’s fine. That’s something you want to know as a parent and teach your kids because if you think it’s a problem you not only have anxiety, you don’t want to have that anxiety which makes it worse.
Step two: Get that your job as a parent is to model how to do things
Sometimes parents don’t know how to manage their own anxiety and when a kid is anxious that triggers them. So you need to be able to move through your own anxiety around stuff and not act it out in front of the child.
Instead, be a place of calm. I would say, ‘that’s okay for you to feel this way.’
The mistake a lot of people make is to start going into solution mode and that doesn’t change the anxiety. Acknowledge and validate their emotional experience, how they feel and let them know it’s okay and it’s normal.
Step three: Ask if they want solutions but don’t offer them without asking
Asking if kids want a solution and if they would like some advice allows them to be in control of what’s going to happen next which will help calm them more.
So if they say yes, I would say two things: "Would you like to talk about what you’re anxious about?" and, "Would you like to ask me questions about it and explore how I've dealt with myself?"
A big mistake is to say, 'You don’t have to be afraid of the dark, there's nothing to be afraid of.' It’s irrelevant. It doesn't make anyone feel better.
Asking kids what they want teaches them about boundaries and helps them create and build their sense of self which actually is one of the things that balances out anxiety. A low sense of self equals higher anxiety.
Step four: If they don’t want to talk, say "That’s okay" and mean it
Don’t take a no as a rejection of your parenting because it will show and that teaches kids they can’t say no. So say, 'That’s cool' and go and kick the footy. They can decide to work it out on their own or you can check in later—but don't pester.
The way that this plays out depends on how the parent has been with the child previously about issues. If the parent always tells the child what to do, the child will feel like they're controlling them and they won’t really want to tell them what’s going on.
So if the parent is okay with the child making their own decisions the child will keep coming to the parent more and more.
One of Australia's leading coaches, trainers and speakers, and head facilitator at The Coaching Institute. In between mentoring thousands of coaches and leaders all around Australasia and helping others build incredible culture, Matt is passionate about fitness and music. His healthy office lunches whipped up in five minutes are the stuff of legend