If your child has symptoms of anxiety, I’m sure you want to help them in every way possible, but it can be hard to know what to do. If your child has been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), you are probably feeling even more confused and overwhelmed. (Wondering if your child has GAD? Click here.) Take a deep breath and read on. Here are the top ten ways to help your child with anxiety.
1. Stay calm. Your child takes their cues from you. If you are always worrying and stressing out, they are going to pick up on this. Try to stay relaxed and calm as much as possible. Especially when talking about your child’s worries, show them that these aren’t things that need to be worried about by maintaining a calm and rational attitude.
2. Don’t reassure your child. Your child will likely be asking you for reassurance over and over about their worries. For example, they may ask you questions such as “Am I going to die soon?” or “What if I get yelled at tomorrow by my teacher?” You can answer them once or twice if you feel like you have to, but try not to give them answers more than this. This doesn’t help them in the long run! When you give your child reassurance, this can create a need for constant reassurance to deal with their worries and can actually lead to more anxiety in the long run. Instead, say something like “Sounds like your anxiety is talking to you again. What do you think you should say back to it?” or “I know you know the answer to that question.”
3. Let your child experience anxiety-provoking situations.
Don’t enable their anxiety by allowing them to avoid anything that makes them anxious. The only way they will get better is to face their fears and learn they can handle them. For more information about this tip, click here.
4. Make sure your child knows that the feeling of anxiety is normal and not dangerous. Everyone feels nervous at times! It’s okay, and it’s not dangerous. It’s only temporary – it will pass eventually.
5. Share with your child how you have dealt with worry in your life. Tell them about times when you feel worried but have done something anyway or gotten rid of your worry. Acknowledge that it was hard, but that it was worth it!
6. Help your child understand that their anxious thoughts and feelings are not necessarily reality. Teach them that this is just their anxiety talking, not the truth. You could even give a name to the anxiety, such as the “worry bug” or “worry monster,” and use this term when talking about their worried thoughts and feelings. (For teens, you could even give it an actual name such as Wally.) For example, you could say “The worry bug is trying to trick you into not wanting to go to gymnastics today! What a jerk. What should we say to him? The help them talk back to their worry! So your child could say “You’re just saying mean things so I won’t go have fun with my friends and get better at gymnastics! Well I’m not listening to you today!” It may sound a little silly, but it helps kids and teens be able to picture the worry as something external, or outside of themselves, as a way of feeling more in control.
7. Work with your child to relax their body. Where the body goes, the mind will follow. If the body is tense, then the mind will be too. Relaxation strategies, such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation, will likely be helpful.
(Posts coming soon about how to teach your child each of these!) Click here to read about how to teach your child relaxation techniques. Any type of physical activity will also help their bodies get rid of excess tension and energy.
8. Consider taking your child to therapy. If your child has been diagnosed with GAD, therapy is probably going to be the best way to help them feel better. Often Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or exposure and response prevention (EX/RP) are the most helpful therapies for GAD, but talk with your therapist about what they think will be best for your child. Once you start therapy, keep going and make sure your child does their “homework!” Treatment will only work if your child uses the techniques they learn outside of the therapy session.
9. Consider the possibility of medication alongside therapy. Anti-depressant medications, such as Lexapro, may be helpful for a child with severe and persistent anxiety. Studies have shown that the combination of medication and therapy tends to work slightly better than therapy or medication alone, and therapy works better than medication.
10. Check out this book: Freeing Your Child From Anxiety by Tamar Chansky.It’s full of way more great tips and strategies than I can give here for helping your child with GAD. (I have no affiliation with this book beyond my Amazon Affiliate status, but I recommend it to parents all the time because I think it’s great!)