Help kids ease anxiety at school, home
For kids with anxiety, you can start with some steps at home that may ease their worries. If those do not work, talk with your child's physician or a therapist for more help.
Parents often do not want to draw attention to their child’s anxiety for fear it will upset the child more. While this may happen at first, the long-term benefits of effectively managing anxiety will likely outweigh any initial discomfort.
Start by having a conversation with your child. Emphasize that you are proud of how well he or she does at school and in his or her activities. Tell him or her that you are concerned, though, that his or her worries make it hard for him or her to enjoy themselves. Talk with him or her about ways he or she may be able to reign in those worries.
First, explain to your child that every time he or she rechecks his or her planner or avoids an activity, he or she misses a chance to learn that things often turn out okay without him or her worrying about them. Second, suggest that the two of you experiment together with ways to decrease his or her anxiety-related habits.
For example, instead of checking his or her planner multiple times each evening, go over it once together. Confirm that he or she has completed his or her homework. Talk about questions or problems with schoolwork that he or she may have. Discuss any upcoming tests, projects or other school activities that may be of concern. Then put the planner away. If he or she goes to check it, gently ask him or her what is on their mind. If it is something you have already discussed, remind him or her that you are experimenting with overcoming worry. Encourage him or her to resist checking and see if the worries go away with time.
If she feels strongly that she needs to check her planner again, that’s fine. The goal is to decrease the behavior. It will not stop completely right away. Strive to be reassuring and encouraging. Do not use punishment to try to force a change in his or her behavior.
To help him or her feel more comfortable with new activities, help your son or daughter find one activity that he or she is interested in but has been hesitant to try. Have him or her give it a try and stay with it to the end. To help boost his or her confidence, at first it may be best to pick an activity that does not involve a high level of competition.
Talk with him or her about the process of learning. Remind him or her that no one expects him or her to do well immediately when he or she is in a new activity and that mistakes are part of learning. Even if things don’t go well, if he or she sticks with the activity, he or she will be able to better recognize his or her own ability to successfully manage difficult situations.
Working with your son or daughter to experiment with different behaviors and new ways of managing his or her anxiety will be hard at first. But for many children, it gets easier with practice and encouragement. If these steps do not seem to help, then set up an appointment to talk your child’s doctor. He or she can either help with treatment directly or put you in touch with a psychologist, therapist or counselor in your area who has experience managing childhood anxiety.
—Stephen Whiteside, Ph.D., Psychiatry and Psychology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.