How to Build Coping Skills for Anxiety with Your Child

How to Build Coping Skills for Anxiety with Your Child

It is normal for a child to feel anxious or afraid sometimes. That is the body’s natural response to a possible threat. It can even be a good thing—helping children think twice before doing something dangerous like touching a hot stove.  Everyone gets anxious at times, but how we cope with anxiety makes all the difference.

Teaching your child healthy coping techniques will help them throughout their childhood and into adulthood. We sat down with Le Bonheur psychologist Dr. Thomaseo Burton to discuss ways you can help your child cope with anxiety.

Early Childhood

During early childhood, it can be difficult to know when your child is struggling with anxiety because they don’t have the vocabulary to voice their concerns. Something to look out for when your toddler is feeling anxious is clingy behavior. For example, your toddler does not want to separate from you, and they have a hard time engaging with others.

In addition to clingy behavior, you may see increased irritability, tantrums and crying. You could also possibly notice regressive behaviors like bed-wetting after a long stretch of dry nights.

The best way to help your toddler cope with anxiety is to provide a calming environment. So much of their world is high sensory. Use their five senses to help calm your child such as playing calming music, giving them a hug or using a lotion with a calming scent like lavender.

Several meditation apps have sections for kids. They give specific content for their age group to help them learn great techniques to help manage anxiety.

Middle Childhood

At this point, your child has more words to describe how they are feeling. They might say they are scared or worried about something. They can begin to articulate to you the reason why they are scared or anxious.

At this stage, your child is becoming more self-aware of the world. They will notice more things. They will become concerned for their safety and the safety of those closest to them. They are also becoming more aware of how others perceive them.

This is the time to help normalize anxiety for your child. Everyone gets anxious at times, and that isn’t a bad thing. Give your child more education on anxiety and help them link their anxious feelings to physical responses such as headache, stomach pain or increased heart rate.

At this point in your child’s development, help encourage your child to self-manage their anxiety by introducing quick breathing, muscle and imagination activities.

There are several breathing exercises a kid could use. A very easy and effective one is to take a deep breath through the nose and release it through the mouth. Doing this for a few minutes is a great way to ease anxiety.

Another option to ease anxiety is through muscle relaxation. This is when you tense a group of muscles for a few seconds and then release, such as making a tight fist and then letting it go. Visualization is also a great way to help your child manage their anxiety. Help them imagine they are at their favorite place by walking them through what they are doing, hearing and even smelling.

Teens

This is the stage in life when your child is trying to be more independent. They are going through big changes during this time that need acknowledgement and understanding such as navigating school, friendships, romantic relationships and making plans for the future.

Most teens are not forthcoming with what makes them anxious, so be sure to check in on a regular basis. Validate their worries, and help give them new perspectives to consider. For example, they could be anxious about a test. Ask, “What makes you anxious?  What can we do right now to ease that anxiety?”

Teach your teens that it is OK to not always have the answer. Challenge negative and irrational thoughts by asking them to explore why they feel that way and what explanations they may have for those feelings.

Continue to encourage the use of healthy coping techniques such as muscle relaxation, breathing and meditation.  Remind them that these activities can be discreet. No one has to know what you are doing, and you can do many of these things without others noticing.

Pandemic Specific Strategies

This past year has been full of anxiety-inducing situations. So much of our lives has changed, and the same goes for our children. A couple of ways to help manage anxiety during this time include taking breaks from social media and the news to help create distance. Make sure your kids are exposed to developmentally appropriate material. Be mindful of what they are watching and taking in.

It’s also important to be mindful of your own worries and be a good example of coping with anxiety. Do mindful activities with your child. Your child will take note of how you react to situations, so always try your best to be a model of good functionality.

If anxiety gets in the way of daily tasks for your child, it is time to seek a referral for professional care —ask your pediatrician to provide a referral for counseling or other professional care that can help.

Resources for Kids

  • Apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer all have sections for kids. All have a free version and upgraded versions for pay.
  • Apps such as Positive Penguins and Stop, Think, & Breath Kids are made especially for kids.
  • The app Smiling Minds has sections specifically for early and middle childhood.

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