Coping strategies: How to help anxious children

Making them feel better actually ends up making them feel worse



By Kavita Srinivasan

Published: Thu 29 Sep 2022, 8:19 PM

My son worries about everything; things that do not even cross my mind; things I barely notice. It would be easy for me to dismiss his fears. I do not understand them, you see. And I have been tempted to do just that many times. But then, the more I learned about what neglecting anxiety can actually do to a child, the more I realised that this quality, when not tended to, can disable a human being for life.

What is anxiety? It is worrying about something and feeling like you are not capable of dealing with it when and if it should come your way.

This is best illustrated by example:

Scenario 1: There is a new teacher in school.

Child’s anxiety: “She will not like me. She is not like my last teacher. What if she is mean?”

Do not say: “She will love you! You are amazing. I am sure she is wonderful.”

Why? We are not addressing the key components of anxiety: (1) Worrying about change in the classroom. (2) Feeling like he/she will not be able to cope with the change.

Try this:

(a) First, address the worry — “You are worried about the change. You liked your last teacher a lot and are worried it will not be the same.”

(b) Next, help your child create distance from the worry and connect with it — “Mr. Worry is speaking now. What is he saying? Do you feel Mr. Worry in your body? Can we touch your belly and speak to Mr. Worry? (if he/she says belly).”

(c) Teach your child to cope with the scenario at hand. This is best done with presence — “I know this is difficult for you. But you are not alone. I am here with you. We can speak to Mr. Worry together. We will get through this together.”

Scenario 2: Your child is worried about an exam.

Child’s anxiety: “I am going to fail. I am so bad at math.”

Do not say: “You have studied and are so smart. I am sure you can do it.”

Why? Because you are not addressing the key components of the anxiety: (a) Worrying about what will be on the exam. (b) Wondering if she is capable of remembering everything.

Try this:

(a) First, address the worry — “You are worried about the exam. It is scaring you.”

(b) Next, help your child create distance from the worry and connect with it — “What part of you feels most scared? Can you feel it in your body? Let’s touch that part and speak to it.”

(c) Teach your child to cope with the scenario at hand — “What colour is the fear? Is it red, yellow, blue? Is it hard, soft, a liquid? Can we take a deep breath and blow it out? Four counts in, hold for two counts and breathe out.”

Building our children’s ability to connect with the worry and helping them through it with presence and healthy coping skills, is something that will serve them for life. As always, before you do any of this, first connect with your triggers around your child’s anxiety. What does it bring up in you? Speak to it, connect with it and help yourself through it. Words are nothing without energy backing them up. And it is only when you do for yourself what you want to do for your child, that you will be able to help your child. It all begins with you.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com


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