It was a dark and gloomy winter’s day when I was in class with the pre-primary kids. It started to pour with rain. There was a flash of lightning in the distance and a few seconds later, loud thunder which startled us. Five-year-old Jayde started crying and asking for her mummy. I understood how scared and worried she felt. I had the same experience when I was her age. I was at school and I was so scared. I was also worried about my mother being alone at home and I was not there to cuddle her so we could keep each other safe and comfortable. My teacher then did not try to comfort me. She told me to stop crying and get on with my work. I tried, but I couldn’t. I was scared and worried.
Thoughts of that experience brought back sad memories for me. Now with little Jayde, I realized that childhood anxiety does exist. Jayde was still crying when we tried comforting her. We let her know that she is safe with everyone in class. It’s just raining heavily and the lightning cannot touch us because we are well-protected by the roof above us.
It got me thinking…what can we say or do to comfort a child experiencing anxiety as a parent, caregiver or educator? It should help you to know that it’s common for school-aged children to experience anxiety. But just because it’s common doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do. Here are some tips for helping your child cope with anxiety.
1) Encourage your child to face fears
It won’t stick the first time, or even after a couple tries. But teaching your child to face her fears is important. Otherwise, your child will avoid situations she is afraid of which will be a harder habit to break when she’s all grown up.
2) Focus on positives
When children become anxious, they get trapped in a pattern of negative thoughts. You can help your child by teaching her how to see the positives of a situation. A little refocusing will steer her in the right direction and allow her to let go of the negative.
3) Make relaxing mandatory
Do you schedule lots of activities and engagements for your child? Stop it. Let your child just be a kid sometimes. Let her simply relax without any major plans. Have a silly tea party or make an impromptu puppet show. She’ll be less anxious this way.
4) Be an anxiety-free role model
Children emulate what they see from us. So if you get over-anxious about everything, your child will too. Let it go, just like that annoying song from that now-famous Disney movie. It’s true though. Start looking for positives in every situation and you’ll soon see your child does the same thing.
5) Give rewards for anxiety-facing behaviour
When your child faces her fears, give her a reward of praise coupled with hugs. You can also give a small token or treat like taking her out for ice cream or buying her a new toy she’s been wanting.
6) Encourage vocalization of the anxiety without shutting her down
When your child comes to you about something that worries or scares her, don’t shut her down by discrediting how she feels. By being dismissive and saying things like, “You’re fine,” it makes your child think you’re not listening to her. Instead, be reassuring. In the example with Jayde, saying something like, “Yes, I can see how scary the storm is to you. What are you worried about?” That opens the door for a discussion about fears and emotions and allows you to help them face them head on.
7) Help her use her problem solving skills
While you don’t want to solve problems for your child, you should help her learn to cultivate her problem solving skills. This might mean that you help her identify some potential solutions until she gets the feel for doing it herself. Let her choose the solution she thinks is best.
8) Keep calm
No matter what happens, keep your exterior calm. This can be easier said than done, especially if your child falls down and you panic, rushing to her. When my daughter fell off her chair at the dinner table and hit her head, I had to stop myself from panicking. Instead, I went to her and comforted her. I calmly checked her to make sure she wasn’t injured and then I talked to her and stayed with her until she was reassured everything was ok. Children look to us to see how we react. If we are anxious, they pick up on it immediately and become anxious children. So choose calmness, at least on the exterior until you can get it to be on your interior too.
One of the most important things you can do regarding childhood anxiety is to remember never to give up. It’s a constant battle and even when your child masters one thing that makes her anxious, there will be something else down the road that puts her through the same kind of torture. By using these tips, the stress and anxiety will lessen with each stressor because of the repetitive nature of them. Keep at it and you’ll find your child is much less anxious and will be able to curb her own anxiety by manifesting it into positive situations as she grows into adulthood.