Note: I am NOT a licensed mental health professional. If you need help finding a mental health care provider please call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit BetterHelp to talk to a certified therapist online at an affordable price. This post offers suggestions for how to help your child with anxiety, based on tools and strategies that I’ve learned while on my own parenting journey and should not be considered professional mental health advice.
Are you raising a child who struggles with anxiety?
I don’t mean occasional anxiety like the first-day-of-school jitters, a fear of heights, or feeling nervous before speaking in front of a large group.
I mean the kind of anxiety that is chronic; that is nearly always present and interferes with the normal rhythms and routines of life.
Anxiety that feels more like a permanent house guest than an occasional visitor.
This chronic anxiety can be debilitating for a child who is suffering. As parents, we may feel completely out of our league when it comes to offering comfort and support.
A racing heart. Sweaty palms. Dizziness. Nausea. Trouble falling asleep. Loss of appetite.
These are all common symptoms of anxiety in children.
And these symptoms often lead to avoidance.
Because what child doesn’t want to avoid feeling anxious!?!
The Center for Disease Control estimates that 7.1% of children ages 3-17 have been diagnosed with anxiety.
That’s approximately 4.4 million children!
And this number reflects how many children have been diagnosed. Think of how many more are suffering but haven’t received an actual diagnosis.
I happen to be the mother of two fantastically creative, sensitive, and insightful kids. They both also struggle with anxiety regularly.
They come by it honestly, you might say, as I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember.
And while I wouldn’t wish chronic anxiety on anyone, it has given me a vast amount of compassion and understanding as I parent my children. And for this, I am deeply grateful.
Here are 10 specific suggestions for how to help your child with anxiety:
1. Be their safe place
Your job is to provide support, comfort, and understanding for your child.
Of course, as parents, we want to FIX things and make everything OK for our kids. But with anxiety, we don’t always have easy answers or simple fixes.
Whatever you do, don’t shame your child or try and convince them to feel differently than they actually do.
First and foremost, offer your child a safe place to express their anxiety.
2. Name the feelings
There is power in naming feelings. Simply being able to say “I’m feeling anxious” has tremendous power. It’s important to emphasize that this is a feeling they are having, not who they are as a person.
If you have young children, PLEASE check out the titles listed in 10 Picture Books to Comfort Kids with Anxiety. These books provide reassurance and support for kids trying to manage anxiety.
Make sure your child knows that the anxiety they are experiencing is not WHO they are, but a temporary feeling that they are EXPERIENCING.
3. Do a brain dump
Get out a piece of paper or a small(ish) dry-erase board and have your child write everything down that is swirling around in their head. If they are too young to do this much writing or are simply opposed to the idea, feel free to have them dictate to you.
Alternatively, they might prefer to draw their emotions. If writing words is a barrier but they are open to drawing pictures, by all means, follow their lead!
Note: Other excellent resources for kids are products from Big Life Journals.
The mission of this awesome company is to provide journals for kids that incorporate stories, creativity, suggested projects, and imagination, to help empower kids, encourage a growth mindset, and build resilience and self-esteem.
Oftentimes, just having your child get all of those loud, nagging, relentless thoughts out of their head and onto paper is incredibly powerful.
4. Use art and music as tools
Art is a powerful tool to combat anxiety. Drawing, painting, sewing, knitting, crafting… anything involving creativity, imagination, and working with your hands.
When anxiety rears its ugly head, sometimes the best thing to do is dance it out! Put on some fun, energetic music and dance!
Other times, soothing background music is what’s in order. Playing this background music has a calming way of providing relaxation.
Art and music are meaningful tools in helping to alleviate and manage anxiety.
5. practice Meditation
This doesn’t have to be a long meditation practice. Just a few minutes of deep breathing can do wonders for anchoring the mind and relaxing the body.
If you are new to meditation and have no idea where to start, be sure to check out my post, How do I start meditating? I have been a certified yoga instructor and have practiced meditation for over a decade so I’ve got plenty of great tips!
Even if it’s only for a few minutes, try to incorporate a little bit of meditation each day.
6. Rewrite anxious stories
Maybe your child comes to you and tells you about a nightmare they had. Or maybe they’re feeling worried about some future event and their mind is spinning with “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios.
As a parent, what do you do?
I suggest rewriting the story that is swirling around in their head.
Grab a piece of paper and some markers or pens and start brainstorming alternatives to the nightmare. Instead of a scary monster popping out of the closet, maybe it’s a tiny kitten. Instead of being chased by a bear, maybe your child is skipping through a meadow filled with friends and family.
Write down what you both come up with. Have them draw pictures if they want to.
Let loose! Get creative!
Allow humor and optimism to be your weapons as you rewrite any anxious stories that your child shares with you.
Again, Big Life Journal offers a variety of simple, helpful, and inspiring products that you might find helpful!
This is a powerful practice in shifting from a negative, fear-filled mindset, to a positive, proactive mindset.
7. mention other people who have anxiety
Sometimes when children (and adults!) experience anxiety, it feels like they are the only ones struggling.
But we know this isn’t true!
Maybe they have a friend, cousin, uncle, or grandparent who has struggled with anxiety. Perhaps you’ve struggled too.
Animals also experience anxiety. Can you think of any pets you know that are timid and cautious? They may very well be experiencing anxiety.
Be honest and matter-of-fact as you give your child examples and reassure them that they are not alone.
This is a powerful way to show your child that they are not the only ones impacted by anxiety.
8. Identify the positives of anxiety
Believe it or not, anxiety does have positive attributes.
I know, it hardly feels like it when your heart is racing and your palms are sweaty.
But stick with me for a minute.
I know that in my own experience, anxiety has opened me up to the hurt and suffering of others in ways that have strengthened my compassion. It’s usually easy for me to spot someone who may be feeling nervous, socially anxious, or excluded.
And nothing brings me more joy than doing my best to make a person feel accepted, comfortable, and welcome.
What if you shared this with your child? What if you explained that their anxiety can actually be used as a superpower if they pay attention to signals of anxiety in the people (and animals!) around them?
Compassion is a superpower our world could certainly use a lot more of!
Identifying the positive aspects of anxiety can be really empowering.
9. celebrate victories
Avoidance is a common result of anxiety.
Your child is terrified of swimming lessons and says they aren’t feeling well, in the hopes that they won’t have to go.
They are scared of falling off of their bike, so they say they don’t want to practice riding.
They want to play with their neighborhood friend but are nervous to knock on the front door, so they stay at home.
But the more experiences are avoided, the easier it becomes for avoidance to become the default.
Look, I KNOW it’s hard when you have a child who is terrified of doing something. As parents, it’s really easy to doubt how we’re handling the situation. Then, when exhaustion creeps in, it’s common for us to cave to avoidance.
But if we can BE with our children when they’re having their feelings, and commit to working THROUGH the experience with them, (from the side of the pool, or with our hand on the back of the bike seat, or standing on the front porch while they head next door) we are showing them that their anxiety DOES NOT need to hold them back.
Anxiety is not the boss of them!
And when they’ve faced their anxiety, celebrate this victory!
Over and over and over again!
Celebrating these victories is a powerful illustration that they can do fantastic things even when they feel anxious.
10. Establish a comforting bedtime routine
About an hour before bed, consider winding down by doing some (or all) of the following: Have your child take a relaxing bath, play soothing background music, light a candle, get a journal or notebook and write down one thing your child feels grateful for that day, read a couple of light-hearted bedtime stories, or snuggle in bed.
Please don’t feel like you need to practice ALL of these suggestions! Take into account your energy level and your family’s schedule and keep your expectations realistic. Even if you only incorporate one or two of these suggestions, you’ll still be contributing to a comforting bedtime routine.
You may want to make a nighttime basket for your child, in case they still sometimes have trouble getting to sleep. Include age-appropriate books that are calming, soft music, or a meditation app with headphones, a bottle of water, and some essential oils.
You might also want to check out the post: Tips to Help You Sleep Better at Night.
Engaging in a regular and comforting bedtime routine will set your child up for a restful night of sleep.
For additional resources, be sure to check out these related Homegrown Scholars blog posts:
- 10 Picture Books to Comfort Kids with Anxiety
- Tips to Help You Sleep Better at Night
- Growth Mindset Tips for Homeschooling Parents
I hope these tools to help your child with anxiety offer you comfort, support, and inspiration. If any specific tips are especially helpful to you, please let me know!