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How to Handle An Anxious Child

Every mind works in a unique way, and sometimes, it’s hard for us to understand why our children have certain reactions to various situations. While it’s common for kids to be afraid of the dark, foreign objects and outlandish-looking characters, there are some kids who constantly deal with anxiety even in normal day to day situations. Here are some ways you can rephrase your immediate responses during these occasions in order to validate their emotions and successfully calm them down.

  1. In a situation where: A child is afraid of going to school (or similar)
    Instead of saying: “You will be fine, trust me.”
    Try: Calming them down physically first. Instead of asking them to listen to what you’re saying, take them through a deep breathing exercise so that they can calm their own mind down and exit their fight or flight mode due to the stress of the situation so that they can see the situation more clearly. Once they are calm, explain to them that they will be able to get through the hurdle and why.
    Why: Once stress factors into the situation, anxiety occurs in the same way. The chemicals released in their mind tell them to worry about the situation more and their immediate response will be to flee. After calming them down, their body will be able to stop the surge of chemicals before they can finally absorb what you are trying to tell them.
  2. In a situation where: A child is learning to ride a bike (or similar)
    Instead of saying: “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
    Try: “I know that you’re scared and I know how it feels, I’ve been scared before too.” Then, you can proceed with taking them through the situation step by step, like stepping down on a bicycle peddle with one leg and following immediately with the next.
    Why: A child’s sense of fear is easily triggered by their inner “alarm”, which is alerted when they find that they are in a situation where they need to protect themselves. There are times when the feeling of intense fear can even trick their minds into thinking something is much more serious than it is, like how steep a downhill slope might look like on the bicycle track. By levelling with them, they will feel less attacked and more encouraged to face their fear.
  3. In a situation where: A child is refusing to go to bed because of their fear of the dark (or similar)
    Instead of saying: “Let me tell you why you shouldn’t worry.”
    Try: Engaging your child in a visualisation exercise to calm them down. Ask your child to think of a relaxing place or a happy place. After they have calmed them down, let them know that feelings are not necessarily facts. By asking them to think deeper about their feelings and question them, they will start engaging in self-disputation, which is a great way to put their worries aside.
    Why: When anxiety takes over, all the related feelings start taking over in the brain and the logical part of the brain is overshadowed. Thus, it’s hard for a child to think logically even when you are explaining it clearly because they need to deal with the surge of emotions that are blocking that ability first.
  4. In a situation where: A child is feeling stressed out from schoolwork or examinations (or similar)
    Instead of saying: “Stop being such a worrywart!”
    Try: Explaining to them about the reasons why people worry and the essential basis of worrying. Yes – because it’s important for them to know that it is okay for them to worry and that it is normal for everyone to feel this way in various situations. Understanding why may even help them to worry less and prevent them from developing anxiety about having anxiety.
    Why: This is something that all kids go through, especially when they start to compare themselves to other children who do not seem as anxious when being put in the same situations. By knowing that it is okay to worry, they are less likely to feel bad about feeling worried and eventually, they will be able to put their anxious mindset away.
  5. In a situation where: A child is afraid to go for an outdoor camp (or similar)
    Instead of saying: “I don’t know why you’re so worried!”
    Try: Connecting with your child and letting them know that you know how they feel. Let them know that you understand that they are going through a challenge and that you see that they are overwhelmed with discomforting emotions. By seeing that you understand that they are in a state of fear and that they are having trouble controlling their bodily reactions, they will begin to move past their emotions and calm themselves down. After they have cleared their minds, revisit the issue and ask them if they are still sticking to the same decision and let them know that it is okay even if they refuse to change their minds.
    Why: Every child feels scared and helpless when they are in a state of anxiety and fear. During that instance, all they need is someone to let them know that they are there for them. Since they are having trouble with reasoning against slipping into a state of fear, parents need to show that they fully get what their child is going through, so that the child can gradually get past those emotions.

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