Anxiety in Children: How to Help Your Child Manage His or Her Anxiety
Life as a kid is hard. Sure, there are no bills to pay or jobs to worry about, but it’s easy for adults to forget how tough it can be when you have no control over your life. About a quarter of 13 to 18-year-olds struggle with a diagnosable anxiety disorder, with thousands more grappling with daily anxiety due to the stress of school, fractured families, and challenging relationships with peers. If your child struggles with anxiety, counselling can help him or her move from panic and fear to relaxation and peace. There’s also plenty you can do at home to help your child feel happier.
Give Your Child More Control
When your child is panicking because life is stressful, it’s tempting to clamp down, take away his privileges, and give him even less control. But to an anxious kid, control is everything. Children who have some control over their lives tend to be much happier. Try giving your child choices, and when he panics, discussing why. Don’t tell your child, “Because I said so,” or remove his ability to control small decisions about his everyday life.
Maintain a Regular Schedule
All children, anxious or not, thrive when they know what to expect. Maintaining a regular schedule can help your child feel like life is manageable, all while giving her a stronger sense of control over her own life. No matter what else is going on, get your child to bed around the same time each night. Plan for family activities and independent time, and ensure your little one eats around the same time each day. For anxious children, small disruptions can add up to big distress, so if you’re going to be travelling or otherwise must disrupt your child’s routine, ease into it gradually. And don’t forget to talk to your child about the disruption before it happens!
Limit Access to Media
Violent television shows, frightening news reports, and online bullies can all make the world feel like an intimidating place. Talk to your child about his media consumption, and watch his favorite programs with him. Not only does this clue you into what your child is viewing; it also gives you something to talk about. Then limit your child to only an hour or two of media a day. Children who have free access to television are more likely to watch inappropriate programs, and therefore more likely to suffer from chronic anxiety.
Get Plenty of Exercise
Exercise isn’t just a recipe for a healthy body. It can also calm your child’s anxious mind. Encourage your child to engage in active play, whether it’s time outside, team sports, or video games that involve lots of jumping up and down. Every child needs between 30 and 60 minutes of exercise a day, and you can increase your child’s activity level by playing with him. Don’t just lock your child outside or force him to exercise, since doing so can make his anxiety worse, not better.
Eat a Healthy Diet
A healthy, balanced diet rich in protein and leafy greens can make a huge difference for children with anxiety. Some parents also report that multivitamins and supplements help, so talk to your doctor about whether your child might be missing any vital nutrients in his or her diet. Some children become intensely anxious when they get too much sugar, so ensure your child limits her consumption of junk food. Likewise, keep soda and other sources of caffeine out of your child’s diet, since this can lead to insomnia and chronic stress.
Offer Unconditional Support
Every child deserves to know that she is loved, no matter what. Talk to your child about her life, and take her problems seriously. Parents who minimize their children’s problems teach their children not to trust adults, and reduce the likelihood that the child will come to them with a serious problem, such as bullying or drugs. Instead, remind your child you love her each day, and encourage her to express herself—even if you disagree with what she says. Don’t punish your child for being sad or anxious, since doing so teaches her you don’t care about her, or her feelings.
Nurture a Safe and Healthy Environment
Though anxiety can be the result of mental health issues, it more frequently results from something in your child’s environment—a parent’s divorce, bullying at school, lack of friends, and similar challenges. Take your child’s concerns about her life seriously, and do what you can to provide a safe and nurturing environment, including by managing your own mental health. Children don’t typically become anxious for no reason, so if your child suddenly shows signs of anxiety, it’s time to look at what’s going on in her life, rather than blaming or labeling her.