It is challenging as a parent to see your child upset, afraid, nervous and anxious. But, what do you do to help your child? Do you push them to do it anyway? Do you let them avoid it until they are ready? There’s so much conflicting advice out there!
10 ways to “Be” when your child is anxious, nervous or fearful.
For many children, your presence will help calm them. Hug them or hold them on your lap. Even holding their hand can help give them a sense of security and comfort. Anxiety shows up in many ways and being physically present can calm the central nervous system.
Encourage your child to problem solve how they can cope with stress or anxiety. By telling your child exactly what to do or even what to say in stressful and challenging situations, they are not able to solve problems on their own or learn ways to cope by themselves. Offer help after they have worked on the problem first.
Fears and anxiety live in avoidance. When a child is able to avoid situations that make them afraid or anxious, they are able to maintain the fear and it won’t go away. You can take the initiative and try exposing them slowly to what makes them nervous. For example, if they are afraid of dogs, you can read books about dogs, watch movies or videos about dogs and allow them to watch dogs at a kennel or secure environment while encouraging them and helping them manage feelings. Be careful not to expect too much at once because it can take time to manage anxiety. By slowly helping them adapt, you can ease their fear and prepare them to cope on their own when they’re older.
Exercise has benefits in addition to health and fitness. Physical activity can be calming during times of high stress. Going outside to rollerskate, run, play tag, or other activities that involve gross motor movements or activities that increase heart rate, can help distract them from their worry or fear.
Even if what they are afraid of seems silly to you, it’s important to show your child that you understand. Although they may not truly have anything to be fearful of, the emotions they are feeling are very real.
Give your child some one-on-one time and listen without judging or discounting their anxiety. Allow them to lead the discussion and resist the urge to tell them not to be afraid. Rather, listen and be curious about their fears and share with them how you have managed one of your own fears. The best time to talk it out is when they are feeling calm because they are able to listen to you more easily.
Fear may not just go away and telling your child NOT to be afraid or anxious won’t help. Letting them know that it’s possible to not be afraid and that it will take practice is helpful. Knowing that they can overcome a fear in time can be empowering.
Talking directly about their fear may be challenging. You can use creative ways to help your child express their feelings. They can draw pictures, use stuffed animals to act it out, create a puppet show, or even act it out without words. There are so many creative ideas out there for you and your child to discuss their fears.
Managing fears and anxiety do not happen overnight. It can be frustrating as a parent to have to deal with a child not wanting to go to school or play with others or take swim lessons, but try to keep your emotions in check. If you pressure your child too fast, it could increase their fear and cause power struggles.
Encourage and praise small accomplishments. Cheer them on, have a reward for progress every now and then, give high fives or hugs to encourage them. Being brave while facing things they are afraid of or are feeling nervous about is something to celebrate!