3 Steps to Help Kids Overcome AnxietyJune 17, 2010 1 Comment
All kids get scared at some point. Thunderstorms, bugs, the dark, being alone are just a few examples of things kids are afraid of. Fears are also dependent on the child’s age too – a toddler has different fears than a teenager. As parents, we can help teach our children how to overcome these fears with a few simple tools that are appropriate to their ages.
“Realize that the vast majority of kids do feel anxious at various times to one degree or another,” write Dr. Charles Elliott and Dr. Laura Smith, coauthors of Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies®, 2nd Edition (Wiley Publishing Inc., April 2010, ISBN: 978-0-470-57441-6, $21.99). “After all, one of the primary tasks of childhood is to figure out how to overcome the fears that life creates for everyone.”
Here are three tools from the Drs. for parents to use when helping children with fears:
1. Give Your Child a Sense of Mastery
As your child ages, you want to provide opportunities for them to feel accomplishment and mastery – not just as it relates to specific fears, but in life experiences, according to Drs. Elliott and Smith. This can be through sports, hobbies that require skills, games of skill like puzzles or Scrabble, success in school (and immediately address any problems there), and by teaching good manners and social skills
2. Help them Fine-Tune emotions
Once a child grows out of infancy, he needs to learn how to control emotions, tolerate frustration and delay gratification, according to Drs. Elliott and Smith. The world is a difficult place for children (and eventually adults) who can’t do this. Some tools to help learn these include:
- Validate emotions – “I see that you’re afraid of…”
- Don’t deny your child’s feelings – “You’re not really scared”
- Don’t overprotect – if you try to fix everything or keep them from experiences, they’ll never learn
- Help kids calm themselves – teach them to breathe deep, count to 10 and let them know their anxiety will lessen eventually
- Praise your child – when they’re trying to calm down, recognize this. And don’t criticize if they don’t
- Don’t give them unnecessary reassurances like “there’s nothing to be afraid of” because they’ll never learn how to help themselves
3. Inoculating against Anxiety
By providing safe situations for common fears, you can help your child prevent fears from developing. The most typical fears include airplanes, being alone, dogs, heights, rodents, snakes, spiders/insects and storms.
The specific activities the Drs. suggest to help prevent fears from forming include:
- Take your child to the museum or zoo for hands-on experiences with snakes and insects
- Climb a mountain together to help with heights
- Watch a storm from a safe place, like your living room. Tell your kids about what makes thunder and lightning.
- If you don’t have pets, visit the local animal shelter to meet the puppies and kittens.
According to the book, research shows this technique of exposure helps tremendously. The example they give is a child who gets bitten by a dog has less future anxiety if they’ve already had positive experiences with dogs. If you yourself have fears about any of these, try your best not to show them much because your children will pick up on these.
The book has many other tools for parents regarding recognizing anxiety in children, dealing with an anxious family member, self-relaxation techniques, information about more serious conditions such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and much more.
About the Authors:
Drs. Elliott and Smith are clinical psychologists and coauthors of: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2nd Edition), Borderline Personality Disorder For Dummies, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth, and Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be? Their work has been featured in various periodicals including Family Circle, Parents, Child, and Better Homes and Gardens, as well as popular publications like the New York Post, Washington Times, Daily Telegraph (London), and Christian Science Monitor.
They have been invited speakers at numerous conferences including: the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, the International Association for Cognitive Psychotherapy, and the National Association of School Psychologists. They have appeared on television networks such as CNN and Canada AM, and, in radio, they’ve been featured as experts on various NPR programs, as well as You, the Owner’s Manual radio show, Doctor Radio on Sirius Satellite Radio, The Frankie Boyer Show, and The Four Seasons radio show.
For more information, visit their website at www.psychology4people.com.
About the Book:
Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies®, 2nd Edition (Wiley Publishing Inc., April 2010, ISBN: 978-0-470-57441-6, $21.99) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling (877) 762-2974.
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