Stress for kids is a natural response to things being outside their control.
It’s important to have high expectations that the child can overcome their stressful circumstances and to distinguish between appropriate and mild anxiety from debilitating anxiety. If anxiety is recognised and dealt with early on, it may not get worse.
Here are some ideas you might like to try with your child to see if you can help them manage anxiety:
A) Take Time to Understand the Anxiety from the Child's Perspective
• Use moments when kids come to you for help or when they want to talk about something that has happened. Stop what you are doing, try and understand when the behaviour is actually happening and the reasons for it.
• Make sure the anxiety is not the focus of the house and you recognise and acknowledge other things the child is doing well.
• Find some books or videos where kids have overcome a difficult problem and read or watch them together and draw out what the other child did to overcome the problem.
B) Introduce ideas to help your child take control
• Ask your child what they want to do about anxious circumstances. It sounds pretty straightforward but the child will already know ways of managing the behaviour themselves. They may sound crazy ideas to you but because the child has come up with them they are often more likely to work.
• Break down a strategy into smaller steps with them. Give them time to put in practice. Encourage them to persist on a few occasions. You can even draw the solution alone or together.
• Sometimes an incident on TV, in a book or something that has happened to another child they know, may give an opportunity to introduce the subject and ask them whether they thought the person did the right thing or what they would have done in a similar situation.
• Encourage Clear Thinking: brainstorm some ideas together about phrases to overcome negative talk. Practice it out loud together like 'I can get to school'.
• Teach them some Skills/ Strategies to help: ie breathing, relaxation or visualizing.
• Get them to choose the skill they can focus on instead of the anxiety like learning to swim, paying at the checkout.
• Celebrate Success, even small steps forward. Discuss this at the beginning of tackling the problem. It can be a trip to the park, a kinder surprise whatever motivates the child to try as hard as they can.
C) Conversations starters to develop practical strategies with your child
Parents cannot plan everything for children, but it’s useful to discuss a range of “What if …” scenarios to give them the opportunity to reduce anxiety, build resilience and develop confidence.
It is important to choose the right time, and keep it calm and casual.
Discuss “what if” situations with your child so they can be prepared for a variety of circumstances. Ensure these ‘what ifs’ are in a neutral setting and separate from any stressful events. Calmly acknowledge the ideas your child comes up with and praise their suggestions and strategies. Assume they “can” manage and cope.
“What if..” situations for conversation may include …
Missing the school bus, having an “accident” , losing their school bag, someone is bullying them, forgetting lunch or morning tea, getting lost, seeing someone they know being hurt, being alone in the playground, having few friends, trying new activities
Losing their mobile, losing their transport card, noticing drugs or alcohol at parties, being in a car with a newly licenced driver, someone is bullying them, being offered alcohol and or drugs, someone they know is being hurt, cyberbullying, being invited to a friend’s empty house, being invited for a “joy” ride, feeling unsafe ( for whatever reason), being “dared” to …… ?
Use age appropriate situations as their social networks widen and expand. Stay very calm and listen to them and their ideas. Encourage them to grow to accept that they can cope and manage new circumstances.
If the anxiety is debilitating then seek professional support
Christine Castle, Social Worker and Family Therapist