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

child who is worried

Does your school aged child worry about her/his test in school the next day? Is your daughter worried that she may forget her steps for the ballet performance next week she is due to perform in?

Some parents have told me that when their youngster 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 take away the child’s fear.

Anxiety in children to some level is normal, just like anxiety in adults. When it disturbs the child or adult’s every day functioning, then it must be addressed with the health care providers – e.g. the paediatrician. As a parent, it is important to keep the lines of communication open with your child’s school or day care setting they are in if you see any anxiety behaviors (e.g. sudden onset of bed wetting in children).

There are many therapists that specialize in working with children that use art, music, drama, Lego and other forums to connect to children in a safe non threatening manner, and when the child is able to open up, the therapist can work with the root of the anxiety.

Dawn Huebner writes, “Simply telling an anxious child to stop worrying does not help.” So what can be helpful then? Huebner suggests that the child sit and draw or write about their worry. She encourages children 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 to do to work out ways to distract themselves when feeing anxious.

It is commonly known that our thoughts affect our feelings which go on to affect our behaviors. In the case of anxiety, 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 phone the police. This shows the link between thoughts, feelings and behaviors. With children, techniques such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) such as the one used in Huebner’s book help a child to learn that we actually control our thoughts; we are the ones that grow the thoughts in our minds.

It can be very difficult for parents to soothe an anxious child. Perhaps the parent may need to work on their own anxiety that comes up from this experience. A client once told me, “My son is so anxious, and I am so frustrated that I cannot do more. I feel like a bad mother.” I worked with my client’s anxiety while she took her son to a child psychotherapist and the situation improved.

A lot of 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 it, then the anxiety calms down. We need self belief to be able to venture out into the world, and as adults sometimes we need to give it to ourselves, and to our children. If we show them we believe in them and their potential to do well in life, that can filter through to them.

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