Teaching Children to Manage Anxiety

by Courtney Suddath, M.A., LSSP, LPC

Like adults, it is inevitable that children will experience anxiety from time to time.  Anxiety can be situational in nature, or it can be a general feeling of worry that spans across situations and environments. When children are experiencing anxiety, a common response for adults to have is to help them avoid what they are afraid of or worrying about. While this may provide temporary relief, the feelings of worry and anxiety are likely to return.
While helping children gain relief from their anxiety, there are a few things to should keep in mind.  First, it is important to acknowledge a child’s fear and assure them that we understand that this is a real fear for him.  Next, it is important to remind children that adults are in charge of safety. Sometimes it is helpful to go through a list of adults that the child is often with, to assure them that those adults are in charge of keeping him safe. This list of safe adults can often provide assurance  that he is taken care of.

Defining strategies for anxiety reduction with children can also provide relief.  One strategy that is often helpful is rationalization. Rationalization encourages a child to determine how likely his fear is to come true. This helps him recognize that often he is worried about something that rarely happens.  If it is a fear that is more common, we can help a child rationalize what plans will be in place to keep him safe, if the worst case scenario happens.  It is important to be aware if a child begins to avoid situations that cause him anxiety. Using strategies and reassurance as a child moves through anxiety is critical to helping children manage their reactions.
Finally, after a child has moved through the difficult moment, it is very important to help him celebrate his success!  This is a great time to reflect on how hard it felt to face what was making him feel anxious, and how amazing it is that he did it and is okay now. The goal is that after some practice, the same situation will be easier next time.