What are anxiety disorders?
The feeling of anxiety, nervousness, or worry is a natural, normal, and healthy emotion that everyone experiences occasionally. It generally occurs when a person is faced with something unpleasant – a negative event, a possible threat – and the person perceives that they have little control over what will occur.
But, sometimes the anxiety can be considered out of control. If your child’s anxiety happens frequently, appears more severe or exaggerated, or begins to impact daily living, then your child may have an anxiety disorder.
Types of anxiety disorders
There are many different types of anxiety disorders including:
- Specific Phobias – Your child may be afraid of specific things, such as bugs, storms, or enclosed places.
- Social Phobia – Your child may be afraid of social situations such as performing in front of others, eating in front of others, or talking to others.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder – Should your child have a separation anxiety disorder, your child experiences intense distress when being separated from caregivers or parents.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Your child excessively worries about lots of things and has trouble controlling these worries.
This is just a short summary of some of the common anxiety disorders, but remember that it is best to have a clinical professional determine the diagnosis and the appropriate recommendations for treatment after a thorough interview or assessment.
So, what can you do as a parent to help your child?
As a parent, it can be difficult to see your child worry so often. Parents may inadvertently become worried themselves when their child is confronted with an anxiety-provoking event. Try to stay calm.
Children look to parents for emotional cues on how they should act, think, and feel. If their own parent seems to be nervous, then they will assume that they should be nervous too!
Recognize your child’s emotions and feelings
While some children are very aware of their own emotions and feeling, others are confused by what they are experiencing. If you notice that your child is anxious or worried, it can be helpful to label the emotion for your child. An example may be, “You seem nervous right now.”
Labeling the emotion can help your child improve emotional awareness which can lead to better regulation of emotions.
Model How to Be Relaxed
It can sometimes be helpful for children to see adults working through their own anxiety. Every once in a while, you may want to let your child know that you are experiencing some anxiety of your own.
Then make sure to talk with your child about how you are overcoming the anxiety such as by trying to relax or by challenging your anxious thoughts.
Remember to keep your body calm and take deep breaths. This lets your child know that anxiety is a normal feeling, but it also teaches your child techniques on how to manage the worries!
Avoid Reassuring Constantly
“It’s going to be alright.”
“I promise it won’t be that bad.”
“There’s no reason to worry!”
It can feel natural to try to reassure your child that the worrying is unnecessary, but as I’m sure you’ve already learned – simply saying that there is no reason to worry does not work to eliminate the anxiety. Instead, it may be helpful to try to help your child relax through deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation strategies.
Encourage Exposure to Anxiety-Provoking Events
One of the most important ways to reduce or even eliminate anxiety is through exposure – meaning that your child has to come into contact with the situations that cause anxiety.
It is best to start with baby steps.
For instance, if your child is scared of heights, exposure can start out with having your child two feet above the ground and gradually increase the difficulty.
Working with a clinical psychologist through this step may be beneficial!
If you notice improvement, even small improvements, in how your child is handling anxiety-provoking situations, make sure to praise your child. Acknowledge that are aware of the attempts your child is making and proud of him or her for trying!