How to Help Your Child Overcome Worry, Anxiety and Fear

by Cecelia

Your reactions to your child's worries and anxieties may actually reinforce their fears

When my daughter was 5, she suddenly began to have severe anxiety and panic. It seemed to come out of nowhere. Her fears were so bad it often took a couple of hours to get her to sleep. At one point, it was a struggle to get her to go to classes. When her worries first began, I assumed it was just a phase she would grow out of. But that didn't happen. The problems went on for months. It got to the point where I seriously considered taking her to a child psychologist.

Before I went that far, I decided to check out some books on anxiety and worry in kids. I found them to be extremely helpful. I realised that I was actually reinforcing my child's fears with my reactions. Parents, by trying to help a child, may actually make the child's problems worse.The book I found most helpful is What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety. It's actually written for kids, so children with anxiety can read it and understand what is causing their worries and what to do about them. The book includes simple worksheets to help kids overcome their anxiety.

Many kids suffer from anxiety
Many kids suffer from anxiety

What to Do When You Worry Too Much

According to the book, worries get worse when you focus on them. The author Dawn Huebner likens worries to plants. The more you water and care for them, the more they will grow. The more you pay attention to worries the bigger they get. I realised that talking to my child about her constant worries actually made them worse. It was like watering the worry plant. Surely, if I was taking her concerns seriously they must be valid.

Huebner recommends setting aside a time period every day to discuss worries. They can't be discussed at any other time. The child is told to put their worries into a worry box until it was time to talk. It took a few months but a lot of my child's worries lessened significantly because we were no longer paying much attention to them.

What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (What to Do Guides for Kids)

Guides children and parents through the cognitive-behavioral techniques most often used in the treatment of anxiety. This interactive self-help book is the complete resource for...

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Freeing Your Child from Anxiety: Powerful, Practical Solutions to Overcome Your Child's Fears, Wo...

Anxiety is the number one mental health problem facing young people today. Childhood should be a happy and carefree time, yet more and more children today are exhibiting symptom...

View on Amazon

Reinforcing Fears

You may think you are helping your children when you take their fears seriously. But like with worries, this can make the problem worse. You are validating the fears. My child used to worry about going to the bathroom by herself, despite the fact that it's close to the family room. I used to take her and sit outside on the stairs and wait for her. By doing this, I was reinforcing her fears.

When I realised I was making the fears worse, I decided to still walk her to the bathroom (otherwise she would refuse to go). However, I now leave her there by herself. She did get upset the first few times I left but I ignored her complaints. She isn't completely over the fear yet but she does sometimes go to the bathroom by herself. And she no longer complains about me walking away.

If you have been reinforcing panic, worries and fears with your reactions it will take time to undo the damage. But it is possible to fix or at least lessen these problems.

Updated: 02/10/2013, Cecelia
 
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Cecelia on 02/14/2013

Thanks Angel. I think there are definitely kids who have anxiety problems that are so severe, they do need therapy. I doubt there's anything parents could do alone to help kids who have more serious disorders. I think for milder cases, how parents react can make a big difference in how bad the problem can become.

Angel on 02/12/2013

Very good topic! I truly believe there are way too many stresses in life for children and teens these days. Not that there were none when I was a teen but it just seems like everything is so fast paced and busy today that everyone seems to have anxiety over one thing or another. My 13 yr old has Bipolar disorder with generalized Anxiety. It really can paralyze him some days. He hates going to school and being around other kids. Every day is a struggle to get him to do things he needs to do. He is in therapy and takes meds but I believe that you are very correct in saying that we can either eliminate or reduce the amount of anxiety and stress our kids experience just by the way we act or re-act to them. I have noticed that with my son....and other 3 kids too. Thank you for spreading the awareness of this sometimes paralyzing issue.

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