How to Deal With and Manage a Child's Anxiety
The following tips and advice will help you better manage a child's anxiety:
1. Limit a child's exposure to anxiety-provoking TV. Kids with an anxiety disorder are like little fear magnets. They absorb every potential threat and dwell on it like it's an actual possibility. So the more exposure they have to media that stimulates this fear circuitry, the more things they have to worry about. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to censure them to a degree that is far greater than other kids, only that you be more aware of what they are watching and try to avoid programs that you know might set them off. Just as importantly, regularly talk to kids afterwards about what they see on television, so that you can point out how the images on the screen differ from actual threats in real life.
2. Combat their negative thoughts with positive ones. Regularly talk about all the good things that happen, about all their fears which don't come to fruition, and all the days where life is normal. If you consistently remind them that this anxiety does not foretell doom, they'll start to better distinguish between what they might feel and what is reasonable to feel.
3. Break tasks apart into building blocks or stepping stones. Many children with general anxiety experience their most anxious moments when learning to master new skills or do novel things. Breaking these things apart into smaller, specific tasks can help them conquer their anxiety.
4. Bedtime routines are a frequent source of contention for children with GAD. Here are some ideas that might give parents a lifeline:
A) Give your child a notebook and pen to keep by the side of their bed. If they happen to have a pressing thought after you tuck them in, instruct them to write it down and you'll address it in the morning.
B) Start a ritual before bed where each of you think about 3 positive things you want to happen the next day, along with 3 good things that happened to them today. They shouldn't be big things; ideas like play something fun with a friend, receive a compliment, or eat something delicious will do. This helps kids focus their thoughts in a more positive direction before going to sleep.
5. Dealing with an anxious child can be taxing, especially when they woke you up at 3 a.m. to ask for the fourth time if you're sure that you signed their field trip permission slip. It's extremely easy to get upset, lose your temper, and ramble on about how ridiculous this all is. But you shouldn't shame a child over their anxiety. Remember that the more you make a child feel self-conscious and preoccupied about her fears, the more insecure she'll grow, and the more intense these symptoms will become. Show empathy towards the fact that these fears feel real, even if they're not rational.
6. Reward a child when they make strides in controlling their symptoms, but avoid punishments when they fall short. Punishing a child for the emotions they feel or over natural temperamental dispositions that they can't control is a strategy that is assured to end in disaster.
7. Children with anxiety disorders tend to have active imaginations and can dream up some pretty peculiar things. Parents frequently don't know how to respond to this, and the message they end up conveying can make a child feel odd, perhaps even a freak. One mother of a child with GAS, who happened to be a little bit odd as a child herself, recalls how bad this made her feel. "That's a really awful feeling for a kid to think, that everything they dream up, their parents find peculiar," she says. (Hiatt, 2013)
So if your child discloses some ridiculous thought to you or says that she just had to imagine having sex with you 7 times, (actual things kids with this condition have been known to say), try not to look at her like she's crazy. Instead, try to appear intrigued: "What an interesting thought. That brain of yours is always thinking about something, isn't it? But let me explain why I don't think that's a very likely scenario."