Monday, March 10, 2014

How to Help Your Child with Anxiety

Worry. Angst. Tears. Sadness. Stomachaches. Headaches. Avoidance.  

Any of these words ring a bell?

Many children and adolescents struggle daily with anxiety. They are perfectionists and will redo projects and papers until they are just right. They will avoid activities and will not try new things because they might not be able to do them well. Students will repeatedly want to stay home from school or want to leave school with stomachaches or headaches to avoid speaking in front of their class or taking an exam.

All of these actions are “normal” for students to deal with in their lives. But what can you, as a parent, do to help them navigate these choppy waters?

1 – Pray with and for your children. This may go without saying, but God loves them even more than you do and he cares for them! Pray for wisdom to know when it is something they should figure out themselves and when you need to intervene.
2 – Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seek out the school counselor, a pastor or lay person that can counsel with you and/or your child. Sometimes a mental health professional and your pediatrician should be involved.
3 – Don’t merely look for ways to avoid difficult situations or times your child will experience anxiety, but walk through it with them. Ask “what if” questions and have them brainstorm responses. For example, if they are afraid of speaking/giving a report in front of their class, ask them what they think might happen/why they are afraid. Then work through how they can respond/react in that situation. Sometimes merely having an “escape plan” mentally helps them feel prepared.
4 - Watch for signs that their anxiety is spinning out of control. What are their eating habits? How are they acting/interacting socially? Are their fears unrealistic? Are symptoms becoming more prevalent?
5 – Look for opportunities to teach relaxation techniques. Focused breathing, thinking of things that make them feel safe and happy and exercise can all be ways to reduce anxiety and stress.
6 – Look for ways to gently and gradually expose them to situations that make them anxious. Ease them into transitioning until they are comfortable and have success doing it on their own.
7 – Stop Googling and reading sites like WebMD or Wikipedia! They just give you all the worst case scenarios of what may be wrong with your child and that just adds to YOUR stress and anxiety!

When in doubt – seek out your doctor and/or professional counselor to help. Children aren’t cookie cutters and do not all experience anxiety and/or depression the same way. Never feel ashamed or like you as a parent has failed if you have to seek help for your child. Getting them the help they need IS being a good parent!

Carrie Beth Tigges
Assistant Principal & Guidance Counselor

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