3 Tips to Reduce Anxiety in Children
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems today. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America 40 million adults in the United States have identified as experiencing Anxiety. Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. This can lead to higher risk of performing poorly in school, missing out on important social experiences, and engaging in substance abuse. With statistics like these, it is important to identify ways to reduce anxiety symptoms in children.
Three Tips to Help Children Reduce Anxiety:
1. Stay Organized and in Balance - Anxiety frequently manifests itself when things feel out of order. In therapy, I work with parents on providing structure to their child’s schedule. Making sure there is an appropriate balance of free time, extracurricular activities, homework time, and chores can promote a well-balanced lifestyle that can help a child stay on track. Once each category has been identified, it is important to think about presenting this in a way your child can understand. Helping them to create a daily calendar that shows what their day will be like can help to relieve feelings of anxiety that stem from the unknown.
2. Avoid “All or Nothing Thinking”- All or nothing thinking is a negative thinking pattern that is common in children who have developed symptoms of anxiety. To help children work through this thinking pattern, it is important to identify other possibilities. In my practice, I like to teach children the Good, Medium, and Bad activity. This activity encourages problem solving and helping to reduce “all or nothing thinking”. To describe this activity, I will illustrate the example of a child who believes they are not going to make the soccer team after tryouts.
Bad Outcome: I might not make the team. I might become upset and cry. I might get teased. I might lose my confidence. I might feel bad about myself. I might feel that I am not a good soccer player.
Medium Outcome: I may or may not make the team. It might be worth it to tryout and see what happens. I might learn from something new while trying out. I could go to the tryouts and then decide if I want to give it a try.
Good Outcome: I might make the team. I will never know if I could have made it if I did not try out. I might make new friends. I believe that I am good at soccer.
Helping your child understand that most situations are not completely one-way or the other can help decrease anxious feelings.
3. Create an Anxiety Scale- Anxiety can manifest itself in various different ways. One way to think about anxiety is in the form of levels. Helping children understand their level of anxiety can be an important first step to control it. Many children believe that their anxiety is at the same level in all situations. This is not usually the case. To help them visualize this, have your child draw a thermometer on a piece of paper with a scale from one to five. Starting from the bottom up, have your child draw faces or write out symptoms they believe are associated with different levels of anxiety.
Here is an example of what these symptoms could be in the various levels:
1= Butterflies in stomach 2= Body shaking 3= Heart racing 4= Crying, difficulty breathing 5= Panic Attack
This example is meant to be a jumping off point. Make sure to have your child identify the feelings that they experience in a gradual manner. To further the work, have your child provide a coping skill at each level so that they will know what to do if they reach that level of anxiety.
How can I help? If you believe your child is suffering from symptoms of anxiety, they may benefit from an evaluation from a mental health professional. Please call me at (347) 758-2985 for a free 15-minute phone consultation to discuss the concerns you have.