Helping Children and Teens Cope With Anxiety

Is your child struggling with anxiety? Unlike the Hollywood notion, childhood years are not necessarily care-free. We live in a high demand world and our children are not immune to its pressures. However, most children have not learned specific skills for managing anxiety and stress. When a child is unable to manage or express their anxiety in healthy ways, we tend to see behaviours that worry us – anger, defiance, excessive crying, whining, or tantrums, extreme shyness, sleep and eating issues, withdrawal from activities, unwillingness to participate or cooperate, just to name a few.

It hurts to see our children in pain and struggling. If you’ve ever witnessed your child having a panic attack, you know what it is like to feel powerless to help. Perhaps you run through the mental list: Did I cause this? Am I too controlling? Too lenient? Too busy? Over-involved? Or you might wonder if something outside your awareness is playing a part: Is he being bullied at school? Is she being ostracized by other girls? But while we desperately want to find the cause of the anxiety and eliminate it, it might serve our children better in the long run if we find ways to teach them skills for anxiety reduction, prevention, and management.

We can equip our children with the necessary skills for dealing with anxiety. It starts by modelling healthy coping strategies – out loud. Next time you feel overwhelmed or anxious try something like this:

1. Say out loud:

a) What is going on and how you feel about it:  “I feel so bad for forgetting Andrea’s birthday. I bet she’s really disappointed.”
b) How you are going to manage yourself:  “Ok, I need  to calm down and breathe.”

2. Demonstrate a self management strategy: Take a couple of deep, slow breaths. Close your eyes and calm yourself. Let your shoulders drop, roll your head from side to side.

3. Share your thoughts on what to do next: “I’m going to go call her right now and wish her a happy belated birthday.”

4. Do it – and report later on the results. “I called Andrea to wish her a happy belated birthday. We had a great chat. She said to say “hi” to you.”
Your children will learn coping strategies from you. Seize your own anxious moments and turn them into teachable moments for your child. The more you can practice helpful, anxiety reducing skills in front of them, the better for all of you.

Article Author: Valerie Ostara is the world’s first Closet Monster Battle Coach and founder of Sound–Mind.ca, an educational and coaching organization dedicated to defeating the anxiety monsters that lurk in the closets and under the beds of our children’s minds. Through our effective and empowering strategies, children and parents learn the skills and self-management techniques guaranteed to bring peace of mind.