The number of children and teens diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression has increase from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011-2012. The percentage of children who experience a clinical level of anxiety has increased from 3.5% in 2007 to 4.1% in 2011-2012. Those may sound like low percentages but take a moment to consider what they mean on a more practical level. Almost one in 20 children suffer from anxiety. Just in your child’s classroom, there is probably at least one child who suffers with anxiety. And, two in 25 children suffer from anxiety, depression, or both. In your child’s classroom there are children who suffer from either anxiety, depression, or both. That’s the bad news. The good news: you can help your child overcome anxiety. You can help them learn to manage their own anxiety with these four tips.
- Examine your own life and response to your children’s anxiety. Do you accommodate their anxiety by “bending over backwards” to comfort them when they voice anxiety? Do you help them avoid those things that make them feel anxious? If so, you send an implicit message of “I know you can’t do this on your own, so I have to help you. I have to do it for you.” You undermine their confidence. You perpetuate and strengthen their anxiety. Take a serious look at your response to your children’s anxiety and root out any way in which your behaviors may support your children’s anxiety. Then, decide to change those behaviors. You cannot change another person, but you can change your behavior. Consider how you will respond to your children’s anxiety in the future. You can use the tips below.
- Show empathy. When you children say they are scared or nervous or anxious about something, empathize. Let them know you understand how scary it is. Give voice to their anxiety. Acknowledge it and how it makes them feel. Label the anxiety and any other feelings that may accompany it. But, don’t stop there.
- Encourage and empower your children after you empathize. Offer statements that support their ability and strength after you acknowledge their anxiety. “I can see how this scares you, but I know you can handle this.” Rather than give in to their anxiety and accommodate their fear by making it easier, support their ability to manage it, survive, and even accomplish. Giving your children this kind of support lets them know you believe in them. Your children’s confidence will increase as their secure base (you) voice confidence in their ability.
- Praise your children after they finish whatever task had aroused the anxiety. You don’t have to go overboard. Simply acknowledge their courage to do the task even in the face of their anxiety. Let them know you are proud of their effort. Point out their strength.
Examine yourself. Empathize. Encourage. Praise. As you do these four things in response to those things that arouse your children’s fear and anxiety, they will grow more confident. They may still feel anxiety, but they will also act courageously in the face of their anxiety. They will manage their anxiety in creative ways and accomplish the very tasks that used to make them run in fear. They will learn and grow. (For more read Preventing Anxiety & Insecurity in Your Children and A Daily Activity to Decrease Anxiety.)