Helping Your Child Manage Anxiety

Why Do Children Become Anxious?

The main reason children become anxious is due to a lack of secure feelings. Children who feel unsafe or who have self-doubts will project worry onto anything. The principal causes of insecurity in children are as follows.

  • Inconsistency: If parents and teachers are inconsistent in their treatment and expectations of a child, the child will become confused. The child sees life as unpredictable and feels vulnerable. The problem may be related to one parent expecting one thing and the other parent expecting the opposite. As Schaefer and Millman say, “Children literally become caught in the middle.”

  • Perfectionism: Some children become worried and afraid that they won’t live up to adult expectations of perfection. They feel they will never be able to reach the expected standard and will never be able to satisfy their parents or teachers.

  • Criticism: Too much criticism from adults or peers will cause children to become anxious. They begin to expect criticism anytime they are being judged. Schaefer and Millman say, “Speaking or performing before others, taking tests, or playing a game can trigger off anxiety.”

What To Do If Your Child Is Anxious

  • Reassure: Remain calm yourself when your anxious child screams, cries, or panics. Do not criticize her for being upset. Help her feel safe, secure, and unthreatened. Give your child your full attention. Your presence will be very comforting. Schaefer and Millman advise that reassurance is also demonstrated by the priority you assign to minor stressful events. There are plenty of major difficulties to be upset about. You assure your child that many problems in life are to be expected, handled, and forgotten. This type of perspective is extremely reassuring to children who often tend to see every event as a major crisis. 

  • Use various and combined strategies: Teach your child to think of happy, calm scenes while relaxing, such as a seaside vacation. This will help ease muscle tension. Your child may benefit from trying slow, deep breathing while counting to ten. You may also want to try isometric exercise. For example, she can push against a wall for fifteen seconds and then relax her muscles. 

  • Invite open expression of feelings: Your child’s anxiety will likely be reduced if he feels able to talk about his feelings. Hold family discussions where any family member can talk about thoughts or problems. Have private conversations with your child, making it clear that he can tell you anything. Play games with him that encourage expression of feelings. 

Schaefer, C. E., Ph.D. and H. L. Millman, Ph.D. How to Help Children with Common Problems