Why does my Child Worry?
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. Life is stressful, and our bodies are designed to keep us safe by letting us know about potentially dangerous situations in the form of anxiety. In fact there’s even a special term for the way our bodies respond to situations we perceive as dangerous – fight, flight, or freeze (F3). Unfortunately, our bodies can’t always tell the difference between a real danger, like encountering a cougar in the woods, and a false alarm, like meeting new kids on the first day of school. Children confront new experiences regularly which can often result in a fight, flight, or freeze response.
What do you do when your child has anxiety?
As parents it can be frustrating and difficult to know how to help, especially when it is obvious to you that the threat your child is responding to is a false alarm. It can be tempting to minimize your child’s worries or go to the other extreme and avoid all situations that might lead to an anxiety response in your child. Thankfully, parents don’t need to either ignore or eliminate their child’s anxiety to help. Occasional anxiety can be addressed though some straightforward strategies that will both reduce your frustration and support your child in learning how to manage her F3 false alarms!
How Do You Help a Child with Anxiety?
1. Stop Reassuring Your Child 
Your child needs to know that you are available to him no matter what. Engaging with your child about his worries provides an opportunity to make him feel supported and valued. Try using the FEEL method:
- Freeze: pause and take some deep breaths with your child. Deep breathing can help reverse the nervous system response.
- Empathize: anxiety is scary. Your child wants to know that you get it.
- Evaluate: once your child is calm, it’s time to figure out possible solutions.
- Let Go: Let go of your guilt; you are an amazing parent giving your child the tools to manage their worry.
2. Highlight Why Worrying is Good 
The fight, Flight, or freeze response exists to keep us safe. Talk to you child about what is happening in her body when she worries and why. Talk about the difference between real dangers and false alarms.
3. Bring Your Child’s Worry to Life 
Giving a face and a name to your child’s feelings of anxiety can make it easier for him to talk about and address his worries. Create a worry character with your child and work together to overcome the worry.
4. Teach Your Child to Be a Thought Detective 
Your child doesn’t need to be positive all the time, but she does need to be accurate in how she assesses potentially threatening situations. Try a method called the 3Cs:
- Catch your thoughts: Imagine every thought you have floats above your head in a bubble (like what you see in comic strips). Now, catch one of the worried thoughts like “No one at school likes me.”
- Collect evidence: Next, collect evidence to support or negate this thought. Teach your child not to make judgments about what to worry about based only on feelings. Feelings are not facts. (Supporting evidence: “I had a hard time finding someone to sit with at lunch yesterday.” Negating evidence: “Sherry and I do homework together–she’s a friend of mine.”)
- Challenge your thoughts: The best (and most entertaining) way to do this is to teach your children to have a debate within themselves.
5. Make Time to Worry  
Giving your child a structured time each day to voice his worries teaches him that worries don’t have to be ignored but they can be set aside when he needs to focus on other things. Limit “worry time” to 10 to 15 minutes (preferably not right before bed). Allow your child to express his worries in writing or art. When the time is up set the worries aside by closing the “worry box” or locking the “worry journal”.
6. Help Them Go from What If to What Is 
Encourage your child to let go of what-if questions by focusing on the present. Practicing mindful breathing with your child. Try sitting back to back with your child or hold your child in your lap. Take deep slow breadths and encourage your child to match his breathing to yours.
7. Climb That Ladder  
Instead of avoiding situations that cause anxiety try a technique called ‘laddering’ – breaking down worries into manageable chunks and gradually working towards a goal.
8. Help Them Work Through a Checklist 
When worries get out of control it can be hard for your child to know what to do. Help your child prepare for periods of anxiety by creating a worry checklist. Take time to identify what helps your child when she is worried (deep breathing, writing down her concerns, challenging her negative thoughts, etc.). Create a step by step plan to follow when worries come up and set aside time to practice following the checklist when your child is calm. Don’t expect your child to follow the checklist when she is anxious until she can easily follow the steps when she is calm.
9. Model helpful coping 
Your child may not realize that you experience anxiety as well. When you get anxious or worried, verbalize how you’re feeling and talk through how you’re managing your anxiety. “I’m feeling very worried about my presentation at work. I’m going to take some deep breaths.”.