How to help your child with anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling everyone experiences at some point. In some situations, anxiety can be helpful; it keeps us alert, protects us from danger and helps us notice problems around us. But for some kids and teens, that sense of anxiety grows too strong or too frequent and can get in the way of their normal activities.

One in four adolescents have mild to moderate anxiety, making it the most common mental health disorder among young people, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It is more common among girls, often overlaps with depression and can be seen even in young children. Because it can look different in each person and may or may not be triggered by a specific event or setting, it can be difficult for parents to recognize at first.

Whatever the symptoms, anxiety can really interrupt day-to-day life for both your child and you. Knowing the symptoms and learning some coping skills can support you in how to help your child with anxiety. 

Common symptoms of adolescent anxiety can include:

  • Feeling overly worried, nervous or afraid
  • Sleep problems
  • Muscle tension
  • Avoiding certain situations
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased heartrate
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Becoming easily tired

Seven tips to help you manage your child’s anxiety:

Help kids recognize their anxiety

Children and teens often don’t know they are anxious. Help them learn how their body responds to feeling worried or fearful; talk through their emotional and physical feelings with them so they can better identify it when it happens again.

Listen and show support

Encourage your child to open up about any fears and worries they have. Even if their fears seem irrational or exaggerated, let them know you care and think that what they feel is important.

Stick to a routine

Schedules and routines create a sense of structure, security and comfort. Try to make things seem normal for your child, even though they may not be.

Praise small accomplishments

Notice when your child follows through with trying something new or approaching something that makes them nervous. Tell them how much you admire them for trying and that trying is key regardless of the outcome.

Notice your own reactions

Pay attention to your own thoughts and feelings during stressful times. Try to stay calm and positive when your child is anxious.

Find treatment for your child

If worry is getting in the way of normal, daily activities, your child may benefit from therapy, counseling or medication. Talk with your doctor to decide what will work best for your family. If you’re having a hard time with your child’s anxiety, it may also help you to seek therapy or counseling, as well.

Get help

If your child expresses thoughts about wanting to harm themselves or is saying unsafe things, call 911 or bring them to the nearest Emergency Department.

Stay Informed about Mental Health

CHOC Children’s has made the commitment to take a leadership role in meeting the need for more mental health services in Orange County. Sign up today to keep informed about this important initiative.

Related posts:

  • What to do if my child is suicidal: 8 tips for parents
    Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in children and adolescents. Here are eight things parents can do when they suspect their child is considering suicide.
  • What to do if you feel suicidal
    Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in children and adolescents – but it doesn’t have to be.If you are considering suicide or self-harm, pausing to take these ...
  • What to do if your friend is suicidal
    Suicide rarely happens without warning, and you might be in the best position to notice and assist a friend who needs help. Because suicide rarely happens without warning, you may ...

Tips for Kids and Teens on How to Manage Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling everyone experiences at some point. In some situations, anxiety can be helpful; it keeps us alert, protects us from danger and helps us notice problems around us. But for some kids and teens, that sense of anxiety grows too strong or too frequent and can get in the way of their day-to-day activities, and these tips on how to manage anxiety can help.

One in four adolescents have mild to moderate anxiety, making it the most common mental health disorder among young people, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Anxiety can feel different to each person and may or may not seem to be triggered by a specific event or setting.

Whatever the symptom, anxiety can really interrupt your day-to-day life. Knowing what the symptoms are and learning some coping skills can help anxiety feel much more manageable.

Common symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Feeling overly worried, nervous or afraid
  • Sleep problems
  • Muscle tension
  • Avoiding certain situations
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Becoming easily tired

Five tips to manage anxiety:

1. Find ways to relax

When you feel anxious, your muscles tense up, your heart rate increases, and your breathing gets shallower. Take deep breaths for a while to try to get your body back to a resting state.

Try This: Pretend your belly is a balloon. Breathe in to make it bigger, then breathe out and watch it shrink. Count slowly to four when you breathe in and then to four when you breathe out.

2. Face your fears

It might sound scary, but facing your fears is proven to help. It’s called exposure, and it involves taking small steps to getting yourself used to things that make you anxious.

Try this: Get the help of a parent or adult you trust and start with something small. They can help guide you through exposure to it until you start to become less anxious. Using the deep breathing exercise above will also help.

3. Take charge of your thinking

The tricky thing about anxiety is that it’s easy to think negative thoughts when you’re anxious. Pay attention to what you are saying to yourself, and avoid thinking negatively, jumping to conclusions or assuming the worst.

Try this: Ask yourself, “What would I tell my friend if they were in this situation?” or try thinking of times you’ve been able to handle a tough problem.

4. Get enough sleep

Anxiety can cause a frustrating cycle. When we’re anxious, it can be hard to sleep. But not getting enough sleep can make us feel more anxious. Try to eliminate the things that keep you awake and focus instead on setting aside some relaxing time before bed.

Try this: Dedicate the hour before bed to quiet time. Stay away from your phone, TV and computer—the bright lights trick your brain into staying awake longer. Try listening to calm music or meditating instead.

5. Get support

You never have to go through anxiety alone. Having people to turn to for support makes a big difference. A therapist, such as a psychologist, social worker or counselor, can help you understand and manage your feelings. This might be through talk therapy (also called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT), medication or a combination of both.

Always remember to call 911 if you are in a crisis or are feeling like you want to hurt yourself or others. Helplines are available by calling 1-800-273-TALK or texting “CONNECT” to 741741.

Stay Informed about Mental Health

CHOC Children’s has made the commitment to take a leadership role in meeting the need for more mental health services in Orange County. Sign up today to keep informed about this important initiative.

Related Posts

  • What to do if my child is suicidal: 8 tips for parents
    Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in children and adolescents. Here are eight things parents can do when they suspect their child is considering suicide.
  • What to do if you feel suicidal
    Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in children and adolescents – but it doesn’t have to be.If you are considering suicide or self-harm, pausing to take these ...
  • What to do if your friend is suicidal
    Suicide rarely happens without warning, and you might be in the best position to notice and assist a friend who needs help. Because suicide rarely happens without warning, you may ...

Managing and Combating Test-Taking Anxiety in Children

By Jonathan E. Romain, Ph.D.

Many parents know the disappointment of seeing their bright child score poorly on an exam even after hours of studying. girl with test-taking anxiety

“I knew the answers before the test!” and “My mind went blank when I saw the test!” are common refrains from these frustrated children.

These aren’t excuses. What these children are experiencing can likely be attributed to test anxiety, a real phenomenon that occurs when nervousness goes into overdrive, causing physical, behavioral and cognitive consequences that can impact test scores.

Fortunately for parents and children alike, test anxiety can be managed and even conquered.

When Anxiety Takes Over

Anxiety at its best provides a bit of nervousness that keeps people sharp and making sound decisions at key moments.

However, the problem occurs when anxiety becomes more intense than what is necessary for the situation. Many people – more than 30 percent – have difficulty keeping anxiety at a manageable level. For these people, excess anxiety can lead to poor performance, low self-esteem, and school avoidance and social isolation.

Anxiety symptoms usually first develop during the school-age years, when tests are introduced and awareness that classroom performance is monitored increases. During these formative years, children need good coping skills and strategies to manage anxiety.

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

To best manage test-taking and classroom anxiety, first identify the symptoms:

  • Physical symptoms include increased heart rate, trembling or a shaky feeling, muscle tension, and feelings of lightheadedness.
  • Behavioral symptoms include irritability, restlessness, rapid speech and fatigue.
  • Cognitive or thought-related symptoms include difficulty focusing and concentrating, memory problems, poor problem solving, and persistent worrying.

Test anxiety can also self-perpetuate or reinforce itself. So, if a child had a bad experience on one test, it’s likely they will have similar feelings again. After several experiences, the child may feel that all tests are miserable and to be avoided.

Managing Test Anxiety

Parents, teachers and students should work together to control anxiety.

Parents should reward success and reinforce good effort, but know that too high expectations and unrealistic goals may have a negative effect. They should also ensure they control their own anxieties, as children can sense emotions and model learned behaviors.

Parents and schools should work together to identify test-taking anxiety as it occurs and ensure realistic expectations. Teachers can modify time constraints and put equal emphasis on homework, projects and classroom tests. Additionally, they can grade more for effort than output. Less emphasis on grades can diminish anxiety and improve grades.

Finally, children can manage their anxiety by identifying symptoms and practicing progressive relaxation and other deep breathing techniques to calm down. They should also be encouraged to talk to parents and teachers when feel overwhelmed.

They can also try journaling: A recent study at the universities of Colorado and Chicago suggested that writing about anxiety before taking a test reduced anxiety’s impact on performance. The idea is that by writing about the anxiety, test takers let go of symptoms and can concentrate better on the task.

Anxiety has a protective factor in dangerous or life-threatening situations, and a reasonable dose of nervousness can help one perform at their peak. But it is essential to know the symptoms of anxiety and to keep them in check so they do not take over. Learning to manage anxiety in the school-age years is the first step to an anxiety-free adulthood.

Dr. Romain is a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist at CHOC Children’s. Dr. Romain completed his pre-doctoral internship at Franciscan Hospital for Children in Boston and a two-year American Psychological Association accredited fellowship in pediatric neuropsychology at Medical College of Wisconsin. Learn more about Dr. Romain.

Related posts:

  • Learning Disabilities and Your Child
    Many children have learning disorders that affect everything from their reading comprehension to their math abilities. Learning disabilities affect the brain’s ability to receive, process, analyze, or retain information. If your ...
  • Diagnosing ADHD
    “I help families understand that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral disorder. It is not a disorder of effort, character, intelligence, parenting skills or self-control.
  • ADHD and Diet: Fact vs. Fiction
    By Vanessa Chrisman, RD, CLE, CHOC Children’s clinical dietitian Learning to care for a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be a daunting task for parents. Families must decide whether ...

 

Helping Kids Cope with Separation Anxiety

It’s your child’s first day at her new preschool and when you try to leave, she bawls. This isn’t unusual on the first day, but you begin to worry when she continues to cry at drop-off time for the next three days.

What your child is experiencing is common and shouldn’t prompt too much concern: separation anxiety, says Dr. Mery M. Taylor, a psychologist at CHOC Children’s.

Separation anxiety often happens when small children make big transitions to new places. This begins in toddlers at age 2 or 3. Crying on the first day of preschool is normal and usually subsides after the child becomes engaged in the new environment, she says.

“It’s fairly common for kids to have separation anxiety when they are entering a new environment, like going to preschool or starting kindergarten or a new first grade,” Dr. Taylor says. “It’s not a disorder until it is prolonged.”

Separation anxiety becomes a disorder when the child cries before going to preschool for more than a week, or throws up, won’t eat, or is inconsolable for an hour. Under these circumstances, parents should be concerned.

Parents who suspect their child has a separation anxiety disorder should talk to their doctor. In the meantime, Dr. Taylor suggests parents try these steps:

  • Talk to the child and prepare her for what’s ahead. Explain what will happen at preschool, how long she will be there, what she will play and when she’ll be picked up to go home.
  • Parents should think about how they react in a situation where their child is looking to them for behavioral cues. Are they showing signs of anxiety or stress? If mom seems panicked or sad when dropping off her toddler at preschool, the child is likely to be scared too. Parents should act calm and be consistent.
  • Avoiding a stressful situation enhances the child’s fear. Parents should employ a systematic approach to desensitizing a child. If preschool causes the separation anxiety, ask the child to imagine he is there, then drive by the school, and next take him there to see it.
  •  Teach kids to engage in positive self-talk to help them cope. Have them say things like, “I can do this” and “I can’t wait to learn.”
  •  Teach your kids some physical things they can do to calm down, like yoga or walking the dog.

 Related posts:

 

Helping Children Cope with Tragedy

It’s hard for grownups to make sense of a tragedy, so consider how difficult it must be for children.

Depending on their age and media exposure, children may know more than grownups think. And even if unaware, children still might sense tension and anxiety from adults around them.

Mental Health America has offered these ways that parents can help their children cope with tragedy-related anxiety:Dad comforting child

Quick tips for parents

  • Children need comforting and frequent reassurance of their safety.
  • Be honest and open about the tragedy or disaster.
  • Encourage children to express their feelings through talking, drawing or playing.
  • Try to maintain your daily routines as much as possible.

Preschool-aged children

  • Reassure young children that they’re safe. Provide extra comfort and contact by discussing the child’s fears at night, telephoning during the day, and providing extra physical comfort.
  • Get a better understanding of a child’s feelings about the tragedy. Discuss the events with them and find out their fears and concerns. Answer all questions they may ask and provide them loving comfort and care.
  • Structure children’s play so that it remains constructive, serving as an outlet for them to express fear or anger.

Grade school-aged children

  • Answer questions in clear and simple language.
  • False reassurance does not help this age group. Don’t say that tragedies will never happen again; children know this isn’t true. Instead, remind children that tragedies are rare, and say “You’re safe now, and I’ll always try to protect you,” or “Adults are working very hard to make things safe.”
  • Children’s fears often worsen around bedtime, so stay until the child falls asleep so he or she feels protected.
  • Monitor children’s media viewing. Images of the tragedy are extremely frightening to children, so consider limiting the amount of media coverage they see.
  • Allow children to express themselves through play or drawing, and then talk to them about it. This gives you the chance to “retell” the ending of the game or the story they have expressed in pictures with an emphasis on personal safety.
  • Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” Part of keeping discussion of the tragedy open and honest is not being afraid to say you don’t know how to answer a child’s question. When such an occasion arises, explain to your child that tragedies cause feelings that even adults have trouble dealing with. Temper this by explaining that adults will still always work hard to keep children safe and secure.

MomComfortGirl  Adolescents

  •  Adolescents may try to downplay their worries, so encourage them to work out their concerns about the tragedy.
  • Children with existing emotional problems such as depression may require careful supervision and additional support.
  • Monitor their media exposure to the event and information they receive on the Internet.
  • Adolescents may turn to their friends for support. Encourage friends and families to get together and discuss the event to allay fears.

Related articles: