A child’s life is full of new and daunting challenges not yet overcome, so learning to cope with anxiety and worry when it arises is a vital skill you can provide them to walk through life with a sense of being ready to tackle and explore what comes- no matter how difficult or unknown.
Talk with your child and brainstorm ways to identify what anxiety feels like. It is helpful to understand how to listen to your body, in order to cope with and overcome anxiety. Maybe it feels like a tummy ache for you; for others, it could be butterflies, hot cheeks, a tight throat, ringing ears. Knowing how to sense anxiety physically can be empowering and make it feel less scary.
It’s important that your child has a vocabulary of ‘feeling’ words. Brainstorm words your child might know about types of feelings and encourage them with some new ones.
The more a child understands words like anger, hurt, sad, guilty, scared, nervous – the better they are at differentiating them, and grasping that they may feel nervous or excited and that this is different to afraid. This is what therapists call emotional intelligence- and this protects a great deal from overwhelming feelings of anxiety all throughout the lifespan.
You can practice and teach emotional intelligence with your child by trying the below exercise:
By substituting another person into the exercise, you can further help your child see that everyone has the same feelings, which can help to make anxiety feel less overwhelming while they also learn to match and understand other people.
Talking with your children and identifying go-to people in their environments upon whom they can rely and trust gives your child a resource of confidence when/if they have feelings of unease or anxiety. Our Child Counselling Service is only one way of many that this extra trust network can be provided.
Children are children; they cannot and do not have to face the world’s new things on their own. Identifying trustworthy adults your child feels they can talk to when feeling anxiety or discomfort will always help.
If you are among those trusted adults, take care to listen closely and genuinely absorb what your child has to say. To accept a child as they are and with what they want to say, encourages their confidence in expressing hard things.
Supportive adults give children a chance to express their feelings and be heard; supportive adults help children identify their own strengths and offer encouragement to practice them, and supportive adults help to develop a sense of responsibility.
If children know they can talk to a trusted adult about mistakes and seek advice on how to do better next time, as well as things that excite them and are encouraged to improve and try their hand, that child is far more likely to accept themselves in the world as human, perhaps imperfect yet able and effortful.
Anxiety and anxiety treatments for children are evidence-based and shown to improve outcomes, from the perspective of not only the child but as well for parents, families and teachers.
Child counselling for anxiety will often focus on using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy- a form of therapy which generally encourages children to face issues causing anxiety from a ‘detective’ approach. Many forms of expressive therapies, like art, play or sand therapy, help with comfortability and ease of expressing so that children can gain trust and become versed with talking and tackling uncomfortable emotions.
Helping children reframe negative thoughts with helpful thoughts, and helping children to come up with realistic descriptions of a situation that value effortful, gradual growth over needing perfection or total ease, provide children with tools that increase the likelihood of engaging in new and exciting things while staying away from dangerous situations.
A good quality child anxiety counsellor will often customise and teach pragmatic, anxiety management techniques to the specific situation so that a child who struggles with bullying or schoolyard teasing can be boosted with assertiveness tools, or a child who tends to isolate themselves or withdraw can be helped with social skills.
For a child carrying the burden of anxiety that sits outside the threshold, learning that they can rely on tools and resources within their own toolbox prove incredibly valuable in a child’s sense of the world and their ability to tackle it.
As a parent, providing consistency with limits and support in a loving way can help your child scaffold their way to be a resilient adult. Anxiety in children is common, even understandable- but it is also extremely treatable and manageable with the right attention and resources.
Being able to better spot where anxiety crosses a threshold and knowing how your child can be supported contributes significantly to the quality of life your child can have. You can contact our child counselling services if you would like help to work out what solution is best for your family.
Marcus Andrews is the founder and director of Life Supports, which was established in 2002. He has extensive professional experience working as a counsellor and family therapist across a broad range of issues. The core component of his role at Life Supports involves the supervision of other counsellors, including secondary consultations. Marcus has worked in many sectors, including private, government, non-profit, health, forensic and community practice.