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Helping a Child with Anxiety

Alyssa Caldwell


Child Anxiety has become a more prevalent mental health challenge as of recent years. “One in five children will experience some kind of clinical-level anxiety by the time they reach adolescence, according to Danny Pine, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health and one of the world’s top anxiety researchers” (Turner, 2019). Most of the time, children grow out of their feelings of worry but for others, they will not.

An anxious child is typically on the lookout for some future threat, stuck in a state of sustained concentration. A child might be experiencing full-blown anxiety when their regular fears become increasingly amplified and these same fears last longer than they should.

There are many contributing factors which increase the possibility of a child developing anxiety, such as environmental factors and roughly one third to half of the possibility is genetic. The earlier that signs of anxiety are noticed, the better. You will want to be observant of how long anxious worries last since if they only last a few weeks, that may not be unusual, but when those anxious worries begin to last closer to two months, it would be best practice to seek professional help for one’s child.

Common signs include headaches, vomiting, stomachaches, clammy hands and rapid heartbeat. With children, they often become tearful and because their minds are in turmoil, it is even harder than normal for children to articulate their feelings in those moments of high anxiety.

As described in book “The Whole Brain Child” by Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson (2011), a proven way to help calm an anxious child, based on research evidence, would be to connect with the child and validate their feelings and fears, and then redirect them into a coping strategy such as deep breathing (belly breaths) or some other calming activity.

There are times when it would be highly advisable to help your child face their fears, but do not force your child to do so as you could cause your child to become increasingly anxious and fearful. One way that parents and other professionals can help the child to confront their fears is by being a part of the process, meaning the professional or parent works with the child by building a baby-step plan of increasing the exposure to the fear, taken from the cognitive behavioral therapy model. Other ways that professionals and parents can help a child struggling with anxiety is to validate the child’s feelings, ask the child to rate their level of anxiety, and help the child to challenge any unrealistic or unhelpful thinking.

Lastly, when a child is making progress, it could be helpful for parents to allow their children small meaningful rewards such as the child being able to pick a movie that they would like to watch with the family or choosing what to have for dinner with also the opportunity for the child to help make the dinner.



References

Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2011). The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to

nurture your childs developing mind. New York: Delacorte Press.

Turner, C. (2019, October 29). How To Help A Child Struggling With Anxiety. Retrieved from

https://www.npr.org/2019/10/23/772789491/how-to-help-a-child-struggling-with-anxiety.

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