Parents are asking: What can I do to help my child’s anxiety? And to talk about what to do when a child has anxiety, we have to also talk about what not to do, because its all too common that in our efforts to help, we may actually be fueling the cycle of anxiety.
First, let’s understand the cycle of anxiety and how some of our common ways of helping can fuel that cycle. When a child is afraid to do something, such as go in their room alone or join a social activity, they may avoid it. And when they avoid it, they feel relief. And yet this feeling of relief is temporary as now their anxiety about going in their room or going to a friend’s house can get bigger. And the longer they avoid it, the bigger it gets.
One mistake parents make when trying to help their child with anxiety is to completely avoid the task, despite the fact that the child may want or need to see friends or sleep alone. Often, we accept another reason to avoid social events, such as…I like video games…or they are boring, anyway…and miss the anxiety that may be occuring. By allowing your child to completely avoid the challenge, you are fueling the anxiety cycle.
Conversely, if we ignore their anxiety and fear and expect a child to take on too large of a step, it could backfire. For example, a parent may decide that their child who is anxious at social events should go to the big pool party, and so they drop him off alone. And while there is a chance they may have fun, if this is very anxiety producing and unsuccessful, the child’s anxiety is going to go up. And they will avoid all events. The opposite of anxiety is trust. They need to build their trust in themselves, in you, and in the process. This may break down that trust making it even harder for you to help your child when they have anxiety.
So when parents ask what to do if a child has anxiety?...Help them break the cycle: by taking a small successful step towards their goal. Choose a step where you can almost guarantee success. And reinforce that step. To learn more about how to identify, communicate, and reinforce that small step, consider Mariposa Education’s course to help parents help their children with anxiety. Building Confidence, Trust, and Hope: Three things you can do to help an anxious child If you are interested in learning more, click here to find out details and sign up.