Anxiety: How do you Talk to Your Children About Their Worries?

Anxiety in Children: How to Speak to Children About Their Worries

Aviva Barnett
September 30, 2020
child with anxiety

Does your child worry about their test in school the next day? Is your daughter anxious that she may forget her steps for the ballet performance next week?

Some parents share that when their child is afraid of lions in their room, they take the child around the room proving to them that there are no lions there. After speaking to a child expert about this, she told me that she prefers just to simply say that lions don’t live in houses, they only live in the zoo. This made me think that using logic can be used to relieve a child’s fears.

Anxiety in children, to some extent, is normal, just like it is in adults. When it disturbs a person’s everyday functioning, however, anxiety must be addressed with your child’s pediatrician. As a parent, it is important to keep the lines of communication open with your child’s school or daycare so they can alert to you any anxious behavior (such as tantrums and inattentiveness).

Strategies That Work

There are many therapists that specialize in using art, music, drama, Lego, among other methods as ways to connect with children in a safe non-threatening manner. When the child is ready to open up, the therapist can work on the root of the anxiety.

Dr. Dawn Huebner, world-renowned speaker and author on parenting, writes: “Simply telling an anxious child to stop worrying does not help.” So what can be helpful then? Huebner suggests that children sit and draw or write about their worry. She encourages them to assess where on their body they feel anxious. Her book What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety gives children exercises as a strategy to distract themselves when feeing anxious.

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Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior

These days, it’s common knowledge that our thoughts affect our feelings which in turn affect our behavior. An adult may hear a loud noise in their kitchen. They may think that a burglar is in the house; they may then feel panic and anxiety and choose to call the police. This example demonstrates the link between thoughts, feelings, and behavior. With children, techniques such as CBT, (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), as used in Huebner’s book, help a child to realize that we actually control our thoughts by allowing them to grow in our minds.

It can be very difficult for parents to soothe an anxious child. Oftentimes the parent may need to work on their own anxiety that is triggered by their child’s experiences.

Much anxiety arises from the unknown. If we can teach ourselves and our children that we can cope with whatever happens, even if we have not planned for the unexpected, then the anxiety dissipates. We need to believe in ourselves in order to be able to venture out into the world, and as adults sometimes we need to nurture that belief in both ourselves and our children. If we demonstrate, through our own behavior, that we believe in our children and their potential to succeed in life, chances are they will absorb the message and feel calmer.

Aviva Barnett

Aviva Keren Barnett (PgD, M.A ) is a UKCP registered existential psychotherapist and counselor.

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