Here are some words of wisdom from expert therapists about helping kids manage anxiety
Show Empathy and Compassion (but not hopelessness)
It is important acknowledge, listen to, and re-state or paraphrase their fears to show that you understand what is causing them to feel distressed.
- Use pictures of people showing different expressions (e.g., from magazines or books), both facial and entire body, that reflect different emotions and discuss the feelings each person might be experiencing (include anxious expressions among other expressions like sadness, frustration, disappointment, excitement, etc.).
- Use a real-life hero or a fantasy superhero the child has identified, and reflect on how this figure felt anxious but coped and overcame the challenge.
Anxiety is maintained through avoidance and withdrawal: the goal is to encourage approach and minimize avoidance. Show empathy and compassion, but don’t support avoidance. Sometimes it helps to explain that “When we are anxious, it can feel like a bear chasing us through the woods.”
- Our heart beats fast, we may start to sweat – our body is getting us ready to run because it thinks there’s DANGER!
- And, we react as if a bear is chasing us – we do what we think will make us feel safe.
- The problem in anxiety? We are reacting to an emergency that isn’t there. It’s a FALSE ALARM!
- Parents react too – they may begin to believe that that there is real danger because their kids have such a strong reaction.
- We need to re-learn that these feelings DO NOT EQUAL danger!