Anxiety in Children

  • From Jen Eichberg, LCSW: It’s awful seeing your child struggling with anxiety. Maybe they’ve been getting a lot of stomach aches or headaches. Maybe they’ve been extra clingy and not wanting to go to school. Maybe they’ve lost their appetite or are having trouble sleeping. Maybe they’re having full-on anxiety attacks.

    Perhaps you were an anxious child yourself and know how they’re feeling. Back when we were kids, the best we would get would probably be some cheery advice: “Don’t worry about it! It’ll be fine!” But that doesn’t take the worry away…

    With one in eight kids struggling with anxiety at some point, this is a problem faced by a lot of parents. But there’s good news.

    responsive,” believes psychologist Karen Young, who runs the website Hey Sigmund. “They’re so open to possibility, and very quick to make the right connections when they’re given the right information and support.”

    Helping your child when it’s at its worst

    Young suggests you try saying these things:

    • “You’re safe. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.” You can offer comfort by just staying beside them.
    • “Whatever you do now will be absolutely fine with me.” If you let your child know that what they’re doing is okay, it will give them the strength to deal with the feeling.
    • If what they are doing is truly NOT ok (punching themselves, hitting) “I’d love to help you calm down right now. Let’s work together.” Statements such as “Let’s go for a walk and see if we can find your strong breaths.” 
    • When kids are having an anxiety attack, their body responds by getting ready for “fight or flight”. Walking will help overcome the physical symptoms like racing heart, trembling, shortness of breath and nausea.

    “Your brain is thinking that it needs to protect you. Breathe – I’ll do it with you. It will let your brain know that you’ve got this, and that you’re okay. It just needs to know that you’re safe and then it will settle down.” Taking strong breaths can make your child’s body relax. But it’s something that they need to practice when they’re calm.

    The idea is to breathe in for three seconds, hold the breath for one, breathe out for three seconds, hold for one. There are different techniques for this. One involves the child imagining they’re breathing in the smell of a cup of hot chocolate, holding, then blowing it cool. Another involves tracing an infinity symbol on a child’s hand or back, taking three seconds for each circle and pausing in the middle. 

    When your kids are calm, talk to them about their feelings. Validate them, and try to help them come up with their own ways to deal with anxiety. Let them know that brains can change, and they won’t always feel this anxious. Give them space to just FEEL. There can be a rush to move through the feeling too quickly, and “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable” is important. Accept the feeling, calm, validate.

    “When they’re given the space and the encouragement and the freedom to explore and experiment, kids can come up with wonderfully unexpected solutions to the things that are troubling them,” Young says. “They can be pretty amazing like that.”

    Credits and some statements taken from: themotherish.com, Karen Young- Hey Sigmund.

    Child Anxiety Resources

    “What to do when you worry too much,” a Kids Guide to Overcoming Anxiety – Dawn Huebbner

    Worrywisekids.org

    HeySigmund.org

    Child Mind Institute - Childmind.org

                symptom checklist for variety of concerns

    Wellbeyond – little kid mindful app

    Mindfulness for Children - all ages and teens

    Jen Eichberg, LCSW * 720-255-1614 * jeneichberg@gmail.com