You’ve Got This! Supporting Your Anxious Child

Anxiety. It’s one of the most prevalent mental health disorders; and of all the mental health disorders, it has the youngest age of onset. Did you know that everyone experiences some level of anxiety at times? And yet we often misunderstand anxiety.

While we typically think of the internal characteristics of anxiety such as worrying or fixating on a problem, Dana Miller, a school psychologist with Central Rivers AEA, shared that anxiety can also appear as outward behaviors.

Children may cry or have an exaggerated reaction about something little. Your child may be upset, but can’t find the words to describe his or her feelings. He or she may throw a tantrum, break down, or even refuse to come to school. Stomach aches or headaches may appear or your child may appear “off.” It’s not uncommon for boys to be misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), when that isn’t really the underlying issue. In reality, children are trying to cope with their feelings of anxiety.

So, how can you help your child?

For anxiety to improve, we have to help decrease the sense of anxiety including the physical symptoms that come with it like a racing heart or trembling. It’s important to help your child to understand their symptoms, situations or triggers as well as identify negative self-talk.

Miller shared three important ways that parents can help:

  1. Recognize and normalize (without minimizing) anxiety. Remember, everyone experiences anxiety at some level. You may not understand what your child is going through, but it’s important not to minimize it by using phrases such as, “just get over it!”
  2. As your child learns coping skills, it’s important to practice these skills when they are calm so that they become more automatic in times of stress.
  3. Communicate what “works” for your child in anxiety-provoking situations. Letting coaches, teachers, childcare providers and others know how to help your child access his or her coping skills in times of stress will pay off. It’s equally important to communicate what doesn’t work. Adults should monitor their own behavior and avoid responding in anxious ways themselves. An anxious, angry adult will never calm an anxious, angry child.

How has anxiety impacted your child? How can we help normalize, yet not minimize, anxiety for our children? Central Rivers AEA has experts who can help. Contact your child’s teacher or principal for more information.

(You’ve Got This! is a new series of blog posts designed to provide advice, support, and guidance to those navigating the K-12 special education process. For more information, contact Kelsey Baker, School Psychologist.)