Anxiety is often used as a general term to indicate worry. It is a normal part of development and can even be beneficial. Some of us are vulnerable to more persistent anxiety that may span many contexts and impact daily activities. According to the Children’s Mental Health Report from Child Mind Institute, 31.9% of adolescents between 13 and 18 years of age have identified anxiety.
Anxiety can often be passed on through the family, or may be specific to the child or adult. Anxiety can also be part of a larger picture; for example, anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with a child who is sensory sensitive. A child may experience social difficulties and may have persistent worries related to coping with his social world. Finally, there may be life experiences that contribute to feelings of worry. The earlier children can learn tools to manage their worries, the better.
Anxiety often feels like worries that can escalate and become overwhelming and even paralyzing for the child, no matter how illogical it seems. It moves the child from a calm state to a heightened state of arousal, physiologically; and so she may feel physiologic changes such as a fast heart rate, increase in breathing, rapid thoughts, inability to act, avoidance, resistance, crying, etc. It can look different for every child, and may look different in different situations.
- Teach your child how to breathe. Make a game of it with multiple deep breaths. This is the fastest way for your child to calm his body, physiologically.
- Reduce the pace of your day. If your child or family is overscheduled, reduce your daily/weekly scheduled activities.
- Make sure your child does at least one physical activity each day (swimming, biking, riding a scooter, or going to the beach or park). This helps ‘discharge’ all the worries that build up for her throughout the day.
- Make sure your child has ‘quiet time’ at least 3 times per day. He needs practice in calming. Turn the lights down, create a cozy space, and choose activities that are pleasurable and calming. Some families make a quiet time for the whole family!
- Create time for you and your child to talk daily. Discuss something that went well and something that was ‘tricky’ for each of you. This creates a platform for discussion without emphasis on the child’s ‘worries.’
- Avoid pushing your child to do/try things. Go slow. Start with watching, and gradually participate as your child feels comfortable. Your child is more likely to try new things if she feels she has control.
If your child has anxiety, it is a good idea to work with a pediatric counselor/therapist/psychologist who has a plethora of ‘tools’ to teach your child how to manage his or her worries. The nature of anxiety is varied. A professional can tease out what will be the best support for your child, and also help you support your child at her developmental level. The younger your child is when she acquires these ‘tools’ to manage her worries, the better equipped she will be to self-regulate and be happy.