8 Steps to Help Your Child Overcome Anxiety

 

 

More and more I am asked to see children in my office who have severe symptoms of anxiety. It seems as if childhood anxiety is at a peak. Children are worrying about everything. Worries can stem from many different sources: home, school, friends, sports, etc. We could discuss the details of all the sources of worries but it won't help understand what to do when your child is already worrying incessantly. When you have a child who worries, you go to great lengths to help reassure, accommodate, and minimize your child's distress. Most of the time it does not work and the anxiety remains in control. There is not any amount of telling a child not to worry or to use adult logic that will ease the fears.  These tips will give you a new way to handle the patterns of anxiety and free both you and your child from the stress.

Three Phases to Control Worries
First, you have to contain the worry, for instance if you have a jug of coffee in a container, it is contained. Juice, not contained would be a huge mess that you would have to step around and clean up.  Worries are like that jug of juice. Without having them contained they constantly spread and grow.  Second, you have to have the child externalize the worries.  This is done by teaching them to think about their worries as a separate thing outside of themselves.  In turn, this will allow the child to control the worries. Third, is the principle of competing demands. If a person is relaxed it is impossible for them to be worried. Distraction is key and we will discuss ways to accomplish this below.

8 Steps to Overcome Worries for Children
1. Worries are like plants.  When you plant a flower, it grows when tended to, the more you pay attention to it and care for it the more it grows.  Worries are the same, the more you think about your worries the bigger they become.  They can get so big they take over all of your thoughts and actions. The goal is to tend to the worries less and less.
2. Worries are also called, anxiety, nervousness, or stress by adults. Your child needs to know all of these words simply mean worry. Worry is a thought that upsets you and makes you feel bad inside.


 

 
3. Tell the worry to bug off.  Have your child think of the worry as an annoying bug that won't leave you alone.  Picture the worry bug on your shoulder and flick it off.  Tell the worry bug to get lost. Go away. Leave me alone.  You have power over the obnoxious worry bug.
4. Use logic! Logic is powerful. It is when you think about what is really true instead of what you think might happen. Logic aids as a reminder that bad things don't happen very often. Then, knowing that even if something bad does happen you can get through it. Ask questions about the worry and try and use logic to see if it is even possible for the worry to come true and if it can how little of a chance is there it will happen. 
5. Create a worry box.  It can be made out of a shoe box or craft stores sell cheap boxes in many shapes that can be decorated. Let the child have fun decorating it and make it something they enjoy. Every time they have a worry they can write it down and put it in the worry box.  The worry is to be left in the box and can be brought up during tip #5. In the meantime, they can do a different activity to actually take the worry from their brain to the box.
6. Designate a worry time. Schedule 20 minutes every night with your child that is worry time.  It is during this time your child gets to freely tell you all of things he is thinking about.  It provides you a time to listen to their concerns, validate their feelings are real, and discuss other ways to handle the worry. You should remind your child to wait until worry time every time they bring up things during the day.  "I hear what you are saying, let's talk about that at worry time tonight, why don't you go (insert activity)?" This helps train them to put the worry away for a little while.
7. When worries start to take over your child and containing them to a scheduled worry time doesn't seem to be working, Get MOVING!  Go play outside, throw a ball, jumping jacks, trampoline, taking a walk, ride a bike, etc.  Physical activity has proven effective as an anxiety reducer.
8. Relax with your favorite happy memory. Think of something you enjoyed doing and was fun.  Maybe a family vacation, a time with a friend, or even a book you enjoyed.  Picture it in your mind and go through the memory step by step.  This trains your brain to think about other things than your worries. 

Just know, fighting against worries is very hard in the beginning. Your child is used to having the worries, listening to them, and having them control their thoughts an actions.  Practice, practice, practice when the child is calm and they will then be able to draw from the when they are in the midst of heavy worry. When practicing and understanding the eight steps above, your child will become stronger, and fighting worries will come easier.  They will begin to imagine the worries actually going away. 

Written by Amy Wine, M.A., LPC Intern, LMFT-A
Reference: Adapted from What to Do When You Worry Too Much by Bonnie Matthews and Dawn Huebner