1. Avoid reassurance: Our first instinct is to tell our child that there’s nothing to worry about; meanwhile, their brain is telling them that it’s a life-or-death situation. Saying “don’t worry, it’s going to be okay” simply tells our child that we don’t understand what they’re feeling. Validate their anxiety and then set about solving it together.
2. Normalise worry: An anxious child has enough going on without also thinking that they’re behaving weirdly. Explain to your child that worry is a totally normal feeling that serves a very useful purpose: protecting us from danger. However, sometimes we get false alarms and we need to learn how to shut them off.
3. Forget positivity: Embrace accuracy instead. Get your child to identify something that’s making them anxious and then help them set out factual statements both in support of and against the proposition. Once they see the evidence arrayed in front of them, they’ll be better able to make the positive conclusion themselves.
4. Allow them to worry: Telling your child not to worry is a sure-fire way to make them hide the scale of their concerns. Instead, set out some time each day when they’re allowed to worry about whatever they want. Have them write their feelings down and then, when worry time is over, they say good-bye to their worries for the rest of the day.
5. Embrace the body: If your child feels an anxiety attack coming on, teach them some simple mindfulness routines. Get them to focus on their breathing for a couple of minutes, taking deep, even breaths, in and out. Ask them to name things they can see, touch or smell. By focusing on the body, they’ll come out of their minds and into the present.
6. Start stepladdering: It’s vitally important not to wholly shield your child from the sources of their anxiety. By the same token, simply throwing them in the deep end can be a recipe for disaster. Instead, try a technique called ‘stepladdering’, where you take an anxiety-inducing task and break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks.
7. Be kind to yourself: When you’re watching your child struggle with anxiety it’s all too easy to play the self-blame game. But the causes of anxiety are deep and multi-layered; the only thing that can be said for certain is that you yourself are not the cause. So, cut yourself some slack, embrace forgiveness and remember that you are your child’s greatest champion.
Written by Luke Ryan, Illustrations by Sakuya Higuchi.
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