How To Help a Child Who is Anxious and 3 Myths That Get in the Way

Anxiety in children is on the rise

Anxiety is on the rise everywhere. It was rising before the pandemic and now it is higher for kids and for adults. In our efforts to help, many are seeking parent help programs for an anxious child – from yoga and meditation to therapy or even finding an emotional support animal. And in all of this, whether they find these supports helpful, you still do not know how to help a child who is anxious yourself, and how to support them in those high stress moments. You might find that while you are trying to help, you still feel ineffective and overwhelmed when your child is not able to go to school or camp, or engage in things they like, due to anxiety. Here are some common myths we would like to dispel as you consider how to help.


Myth #1: Anxiety looks like shyness and shutting down.

When we think of an anxious child, we immediately picture the shy child with their head down biting their nails, or the child quietly re-doing their work. Actually, our reaction to anxiety takes a variety of forms. While anxiety is more of a form of excessive worry, it presents just like stress in that we often go into fight, flight or freeze. So while freeze is shutting down..and flight can be running away or simply checking out, fight is another stress response. When a child snaps at us, argues or becomes aggressive, it can also be a result of anxiety. While we often feel empathy around the anxiety of a child who quietly moves on the outskirts of a social event, we tend to get more annoyed and infer a different intention of the child who gets a bit “large and in charge” with the same anxiety. Recognize that it's the same source, just showing up differently. We can’t help a child who is anxious when we miss some of the signs. For example, your child may begin to run around and poke their sibling leading up to a stressful event, and we miss that sign of anxiety. Which really limits our ability to help.


Myth #2: Anxiety is all in your head, so you just need to change your thinking

Ok, so let’s break this down... Anxiety does have an internal source, and comes from our worries, but consider that worries are often based in some fact, past stress, or hurt. It's not all in our heads. For example, the child who was teased or bullied at their last school is likely to be more anxious entering a new situation, even if there is no present danger. It’s very real. It has a physiological impact on us, making it hard to think or problem solve. So, while there is some truth to changing the way we think, we first need to lower that stress response AND we need to help the child take a small action to make a change. If we believe its all in their heads, we will likely rely on telling them not worry, or ask them to think differently…or just have fun…and this can backfire. This belief that its all in their head, makes it difficult to truly help an anxious child. At Mariposa Education, we have a process to understand anxiety and the steps parents need to help a child through the process, so that they can get unstuck.


Myth #3: It's your fault

We know that anxiety is contagious and so many parents feel (or have been told) that they are the cause of anxiety in children, so is their child – that they have passed this on to them. In fact, it’s not so one directional. We all absorb it in the world around us and it flows freely back and forth between us and our children. Have you ever heard the phrase, “You are only as happy as your least happy child?” We know that hits a sore spot. If your child is worried about something, you hold it too. Rather than blaming yourself (this may make you more anxious and worried!) just consider your power to change the dynamic and lower the stress. It turns out that there are specific things you can do to lower the impact of anxiety and stress, and help your child take an action…one step at a time to get unstuck. In order to help a child who is anxious, it helps to see that while its not your fault, you can learn specific skills to break the anxiety cycle and create a process to move through it. 


How To Help Your Anxious Child

In order to understand how to help your anxious child, parent’s help programs for an anxious child should be based on the understanding that anxiety is real, and not all in their head, is not blamed on the parent, and also that it can show up in many ways. Furthermore, to help your anxious child, there are specific strategies and skills you can learn to break the cycle of anxiety and build confidence. So how can we help an anxious child?


Lower the Stress Response 

Any attempt to help a child who is anxious should include strategies to lower stress. And saying, “Don’t worry” isn’t one of them. Did you know that when a child feels understood, the release of of the stress hormone, cortisol is blocked. So, strategies to help a child feel understood are key. At Mariposa Education, we teach the specific words to do that. HInt: It's not “I understand.”. 


Take a Small Step

 Everyone has heard that phrase, “Get back up on the horse.” The idea is the longer you avoid something that you are nervous about,  the worse it gets. So just do it. There is truth in that. But any parent who has tried to get their child “back on a horse” after falling knows that can backfire. So rather than throwing our kids in the deep end, or conversely letting them avoid something all together, knowing what small step to take and helping them take it is critical. Mariposa Education uses brain science and a real understanding of anxiety to give parents the tools to not only figure out what step to take but how to communicate around that. So your child can experience success.


Focus on the Positive

Did you know that children need a 5 to 1 ratio of positive feedback to negative feedback to really learn and grow? Focusing on what your child does well can make a big difference in their ability to grow and try new things. And it turns out how you reinforce positive behaviors can make the difference between being more likely to keep trying when something is difficult and getting stuck. To help a child who is anxious, parents need to learn the science behind positive reinforcement, and the skills be effective to help your child who is anxious. 


Managing Anxiety in Children

If you are looking for a parents help program for an anxious child, Mariposa Education, is offering  a brand new 4 module course to help you to help your anxious child.  Because anxiety in children is a growing challenge, and you need the tools to help. Go to to learn more. 


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