Imagine how confronting many everyday experiences may be to children. Something as simple as visiting a grocery store can be quite overwhelming to little ones. It’s loud. It’s cold. They can’t touch things they want to or run around. Their parents are distracted finding what they need, and basically ignore them. Random strangers keep looking at them – sometimes waving, smiling, and talking – when all they want to do is go home and be alone…
If trips to the same store are consistently overwhelming, they may naturally begin to feel anxious about going there.
Their sister or brother may love to go to the grocery store, but they get butterflies any time they get into the car to go… and they really just can’t explain why.
It is totally normal to experience anxiety, it is just part of life! As parents we are able to respond to our children with understanding and compassion, and also help our children learn how to cope more effectively.
How to Help Our Kids Cope
Here are a few ideas for helping young children deal with anxiety in particular:
Usually anxiety is caused by something in particular. Try to figure out why your child is anxious, as they are not always able to identify what it is on their own. Do they get grumpy or clingy a few hours before bedtime? Or when they know they are being dropped off at Grandma’s house for the afternoon? They may say they have a stomach ache, or just break down into tears over something that would not normally bother them. Pay attention to their behaviour and be sure to listen out for cues. Identifying what causes anxiety is the first step towards dealing with it.
Steady your reaction.
Whether it’s going to daycare, laying in bed in the dark, or playing with new children – be sure to accept your child and do not discount his fears. Everyone is different and feels anxious about different things. Express genuine concern. Try your best not to get annoyed or angry with your child’s feelings (no matter how “silly” they may seem to you), as this will only make things worse.
Let them know it’s normal to be anxious.
Labelling and understanding that we have a lot of feelings can help children realise that it’s okay not to feel 100% “happy” or “good” all the time. Using Feeleez Tools or making your own set of Emotion Cards can be fun ways to learn and talk about feelings. When children do express how they are feeling, be sure not to dismiss them by saying, “You’re fine.” Let them know that anxiety is absolutely normal, and is something everyone experiences from time to time. Feeling anxiety is a signal to us to pay attention to what is about to happen.
Help them work out difficult situations.
Anxiety can sometimes be caused by memories of difficult situations – your child may be nervous about facing the same situation again. Help your child figure out what to do if (or when) a similar situation arises by discussing what happened and sharing ideas about what they can do to make it better the next time. Drawing pictures or role playing can be especially helpful for younger children.
Find stories and activities to learn how to deal with the feelings.
There are many amazing resources out there! I was recently sent a lovely book to review called Angel Violet’s Magic Wings which offers a beautiful story (plus parent notes) to teach children how to shift from feeling bad to feeling safe. Plant Love Grow also provides free printables to address anxiety and insecurity which you can find by clicking here.
Encourage your child.
Believe in them and let them know it. Tell your child that he is strong and that he is learning and growing every day. Be sure he knows you love him unconditionally! Extra cuddles and spending quality time every day can really help.
Please note that if your child is experiencing a very high level of anxiety it would be wise to consult with your doctor.
What other ways can you help young children with anxiety?
I was sent a copy of Angel Violet’s Magic Wings but was not paid to write this post. All opinions are my own. To read more about sponsorship and reviews on my website, visit this page.