Helping Anxious Kids

April 26, 2018
Helping Anxious Kids

This week, our colleagues at the Child Mind Institute focus on what to do —and not do — when young children are anxious.

1. Don’t avoid things because they make your child anxious. As parents, it’s natural for us to want to protect children from suffering. But the best way to help kids overcome anxiety isn’t to avoid things that trigger it — that makes the anxiety stronger. Instead, encourage them to tolerate their fear and function as well as they can. That will make the anxiety decrease over time.

2. Don’t respond to anxious behavior. If a child in an uncomfortable situation gets upset and starts to cry, don’t whisk him out of there, or remove the thing he’s afraid of. If you do, he will learn that crying or throwing a tantrum is a good way to handle anxiety, and repeat it next time he’s anxious.

3. Express confidence in your child’s ability to cope. When she’s afraid of something, let her know that you’re confident she’s going to be okay, and will be able to manage, even if she’s nervous. And praise her for being brave when she does something she’s anxious about.

4. Respect her feelings, but don’t empower them. If a child is afraid of going to the doctor because she’s due for a shot, don’t belittle her fears, but don’t amplify them. The message you want to send is, “I know you’re scared, and that’s okay, and I’m here, and I’m going to help you get through this.”

5. Don’t reinforce your child’s fears. Let’s say a child has had a negative experience with a dog. Next time she’s around a dog, you might be anxious about how she will respond, and you might unintentionally send a message that she should, indeed, be worried. You want your tone of voice and body language to let her know that you’re relaxed and confident.

To learn more about helping anxious kids, read How to Help Anxious Kids in Social Situations on the Child Mind Institute’s website,