How can I help my child with anxiety?
As parents, one of our many roles is to ease our children’s distress, to assist them to feel calm, connected and contained.
An important way to assist our children with their feelings is through co-regulation, which is defined as warm and responsive interactions that provide the support, coaching, and modelling children need to “understand, express, and modulate their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours”.
What is reassurance seeking?
One of the ways that we help our kids is also to offer reassurance. Sometimes this reassurance is sought out by our children as a means to take away our children’s anxieties and fears.
Sometimes this reassurance seeking can become excessive. Excessive reassurance seeking involves asking you lots of questions; asking you to repeat the same thing over and over again; or asking for lots of details about upcoming events or activities. This reassurance seeking can be triggered by a child experiencing anxiety.
How can anxiety look in children?
Anxiety in children can present in many ways:
- Somatic complaints including stomach aches, headaches, and needing to go to the toilet often.
- Avoidance heard as “I don’t want to go there”.
- Sleep difficulties.
- Eating difficulties.
- Feeling upset and irritable.
- Reassurance seeking like “will it be ok?”
When our children are feeling anxious they generally turn to us for reassurance, to assist them to make sense of the ‘danger’ and how to manage it.
With anxious children, as parents, it is easy to get caught up in the anxiety reassurance loop. Yes, reassurance helps to reduce anxiety in the short term however it serves to maintain anxiety in the long term, by our children feeling like they can only manage the worry with the reassurance that you offer.
It is important to remember that reassurance can be more helpful if it is “being with” our child and helping them to acknowledge their feelings, test the reality of their thoughts and then support them to problem solve. This type of reassurance will not only help them in the short term but give them skills that will help them get through difficult feelings when you are not there to support them.
How can I help my child?
When trying to assist your child to manage their worries, the following boundaries can be helpful around reassurance:
- Name and validate the feeling your child may be showing. For example, you may say “I am wondering if you are feeling nervous/worried about this? It is ok to feel that way”
- Offer a reassurance statement like “We can get through this,” “I am here to help you,” and “We’ve got this together”
- Encourage your child to use positive coping strategies including, controlled breathing, mindfulness, listening to music, and movement and exercise to calm the anxious feeling.
- Encourage your child to think about their thinking that may be triggering the worry. For example, you may say “is there another way to think about that? Is that a possibility or a probability? how true is that thought? Is there any evidence to support that thought?”
- Support your child to gradually engage with what they are nervous or worried about in some capacity, but don’t support them to avoid.
Where can I get help?
If you are finding that your child is experiencing daily anxiety that gets in the way of them doing the things they want to do or have to do it may be time to access support from a friendly clinical psychologist. Our team can help.
Written by Dr Rebecca Jamieson, Senior Clinical Psychologist
If you would like to learn more about child anxiety or to book an appointment with Dr Rebecca Jamieson or another one of our experienced clinical psychologists, contact our friendly client team by calling 6143 4499 or email via our contact page.
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