By Lisa Reichelt, Parent Coach
We have talked about the symptoms and categories, now let’s look at what you can do to help your child. All humans respond to the feelings of anxiety with the reaction of Fight, Flight or Freeze. We respond with aggression (fight). We avoid the anxiety producing event (flight). Or we are unable to respond, or move (freeze). These responses are normal and natural. As parents, it is your responsibility to help your child learn to manage their response and to overcome the debilitating nature of these responses.
Triggers of Anxiety
The first step is to try to determine what triggers the anxiety for your child. If the trigger is a phobia, such as an animal or a particular event, it is easier to learn to cope. If a child’s anxiety is more situational, it may be difficult to identify the trigger. Start by writing down notes that describe the events leading up to the anxiety episode and the series of events after the anxiety situation. Gathering data is the best way to identify triggers.
Along with identifying triggers, it is important to record the symptoms that your child exhibits. Again write down what you are noticing. By recognizing the ways your child is responding to the anxiety producing event, you will be better able to react appropriately and assist them in overcoming their difficulty. When you keep track of your child’s reaction, you will know if they are responding with fight, flight or freeze. This knowledge enables you to prepare your own reaction in order to assist them. For instance, if your child freezes when they are at the neighborhood playground, they will need your help in learning how to participate. You can help them by discussing the outing before you go and asking them to set some goals for how to enter into the play.
Another thing to be watchful for is how your child resolves their anxiety. Some children will give you clues to ways they overcome anxious moments. For my daughter, it was having access to her favorite blanket and stuffed animals. They created a security that she embraced and it helped relieve her emotions. What helps your child?
Experts in the field have recommended these strategies for assisting your children who are dealing with mild anxiety:
- Draw pictures to better communicate feelings
- Prepare your children in advance for situations that may cause anxiety
- Schedule breaks during anxiety producing events, be consistent and reliable
- Gradually expose your child to items that may cause phobic reactions
- Conduct pre-visits to places where your child is anxious to go, such as school, the doctor’s office, the dentist or an amusement park.
- Model confidence! If you are expecting your child to react, they may react because of you.
- Be positive with your child and validate their feelings, adding shame to the equation is never helpful
Dealing with anxiety is a difficult path to walk. Remember, you are not alone and anxiety is not a personality defect. Your child can’t help it that they are anxious. They are looking to you for direction and support. Do your best to assist your child in managing their anxiety and be in good communication with your pediatrician if the steps you are taking aren’t enough to relieve the symptoms. Good cooperation between parents, school staff and doctors can be the key to success.
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