Anxiety is a normal emotion that helps to motivate us. Too much anxiety, however, can cause distress in the form of excessive worry, excessive drive to the point of exhaustion, panic and intense fear of failure and rejection. Children with anxiety sometimes are afraid of germs, doctors, dark rooms and monsters. Some of their fears might seem illogical to an adult. I often hear children say, “I am afraid that someone will take me in the night.” Some of these children live in a high-security building, with doormen, guards, cameras and locks. To a child, anxiety can look like monsters and kidnappers. You might find your child is anxious about time, war, the future and worry about their parent’s happiness. Some children have social anxiety or separation anxiety.
Managing a child with anxiety can feel like a balancing act. As a parent, you do not like to see your child suffer, so you might try to shield them from fearful things. You and your child need to push yourself out of your comfort zone to help lessen the anxiety. The more we shield our children, the bigger the anxiety can become. Here are some pointers to manage fear without going too far.
Understand your child’s fears
Ask your child to draw or tell you what they are afraid of. When you know what your child is scared of, you can help them understand how you will keep your child safe. For example, if your child is afraid of the doctor, tell them you will come with them. If your child is fearful of the dark, give them a flashlight or a night light.
Gently push them out of their comfort zone
Overprotecting your child leads to the anxiety becoming bigger. Gently pushing them out of their comfort zone looks like trying a new restaurant, using public transportation, introducing them to new people, or taking baby steps towards what is scaring them. Do not force it all at once; take your time and add levels.
Manage your anxiety and fears
Children are tuned into their parent’s feelings and often model reactions that they see from adults. If you are afraid of spiders, your child might become frightened of spiders.
Reframe your child’s negative thoughts in a child-friendly way
You can ask your child what evidence they have for their negative thought and what alternatives are there for that thought. For example, “I am going to fail my test.” What evidence do you have you will fail? The alternative thought could be, “I will study for my exam and do what I can on it.”
Help your child decompress
Help them to relax at the end of the day in a quiet place. You can create a calm down corner or a space for your child to draw, listen to music or to read. Children have long days at school with other students, noise and stress.
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