Adults aren’t the only ones affected by mental health conditions — children can suffer from anxiety that reaches beyond the normal fears of childhood, too. Between six percent and 18 percent of children and teens are affected by anxiety disorders, which can lead to depression, poor academic performancem, and in some cases, drug use. Mustafa Pirzada, MD of JFK Medical Center North Campus, in West Palm Beach, Florida explains the signs and treatment of anxiety, and how parents can help children suffering with anxiety.
1. Determine the Cause
Knowing what triggers your child’s anxious feelings — whether it’s academics, social situations, or bullying — can be the first step in helping them overcome their anxiety. Identifying a child’s major source of anxiety can help parents to target the cause and intervene, or seek professional help, if needed.
2. Stop Stressing Yourself
A parent can help a child experiencing anxiety by better managing his or her own anxiety. Anxiety and stress management are partially learned behaviors; it’s only natural for kids to pick up behaviors from parents. “Children often look to parents to find some recourse into what they’re feeling. If they have anxious parents, the child will learn that the response to that particular situation is one of anxiety,” Pirzada says. Showing self-compassion and handling stress in positive ways can teach children they are capable of managing their stress and anxiety in a productive manner, too.
3. Remove Environmental Stressors
A child’s home environment is key to his or her mental health. Parental drug use, domestic violence, and arguments can all contribute feelings of negativity and anxiety in children. If a negative environment begins to affect a child’s mental health, parents should take the appropriate steps to reduce those negative influencers.
4. Increase Communication
An important way to treat a child’s anxiety is open communication. Kids who experience anxiety often become withdrawn. If you’ve noticed your child is isolating himself or herself, it’s important to open communication, and let him or her know it's okay to discuss fears or anxieties. “If parents notice a rapid change in their child’s behavior, especially if there's a decline in their social functioning or their academic performance, they need to discuss what may be happening,” Pirzada says. Opening communication also provides parents with the opportunity to teach coping strategies, like relaxation techniques and breathing exercises.
5. Get Your Child Involved
Getting your children out of the house and interacting with other kids can help them cope with anxiety. “Getting [kids] involved in social activities like groups, clubs, organizations [and] sports in school is very important,” Pirzada says. “Keeping children active, happy, and social can help them avoid sources of anxiety like bullying, drugs, sexting, cyberbullying, social media, [or] television.”
6. Recognize Fears, but Don’t Indulge Them
Don’t give your children a reason to be worried. Using your words, tone of voice, and body language, recognize your child’s fears, but don’t reinforce them. Let your child know you understand his or her fear and that it’s okay to be afraid — but that he or she doesn’t have to be.