Children and young people: How you can help overcome fear

If you teach your children to deal with fear, you will help them for the rest of their lives.
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The Corona pandemic has increased the feeling of anxiety and depression in many children and young people. Parents can help manage the fear.

Watch your child for signs and help identify the source of the fear. Relaxation exercises can also help with anxiety.

Being scared is normal. So offer positive distractions like exercise and seek professional help if things don’t improve.

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, both children and adults. Children and young people may experience anxiety in response to peer pressure, certain family dynamics or problems at school. The Corona pandemic has also increased feelings of anxiety and depression in many children.

Regardless of whether your child shares their thoughts and feelings about fear with you, you can always help. Here are eight approaches you can take to support an anxious child or teenager.

1. Watch for signs of fear

Anxiety symptoms can vary greatly from child to child. It is worth noting that especially younger children usually complain more about the physical symptoms of anxiety than the emotional ones, says Rebecca Etkin. She is a clinical psychologist at the American Yale Child Study Center.

In other words, they may be more likely to say they are uncomfortable or complain of physical symptoms than they are to say they are afraid.

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Common physical anxiety symptoms in children include:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • shortness of breath
  • Shake
  • abdominal pains
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Less willing to try new things
  • temper tantrums
  • Increased crying
  • Avoid things they used to enjoy

2. Helps find the source of fear

You can help your child identify what triggers their anxiety by encouraging them to be open about how they feel—and also to ask why they feel that way. So says Neha Chaudhary, psychiatrist and chief physician at BeMe Health. “If your child responds with ‘I don’t know,’ you should suggest that you go through the day together and look for clues to the fear,” says Chaudhary.

Things that often trigger anxiety in children, according to Rebecca Mannis, a developmental psychologist and learning specialist at Ivy Prep, are school pressures, major life changes like a move or a death in the family, abuse or neglect, and conflict at home.

However, you should know that your child may not always be able to pinpoint the source of their anxiety. Even if they can, there may not be anything they can do about certain triggers — like moving to another city or losing a loved one. It’s more important that they have space to share and someone to work through their experiences with so they don’t feel alone with these feelings, says Chaudhary.

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3. Suggests relaxation exercises

Breathing relaxation exercises and mindfulness exercises that involve observing but not evaluating feelings can help an anxious child. For example, a small study from 2022 found that children aged 7 to 10 were less anxious when taught a breathing exercise.

“For younger children, I would recommend taking four deep breaths, four inhales and four exhales,” says Chaudhary. Teenagers, on the other hand, may find it helpful to try meditation. Other relaxation exercises can also help. A few to try are:

  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Mindful journaling
  • yoga
  • music therapy
  • art therapy

These activities can all help keep the child’s brain engaged so it doesn’t slip into worry or anxiety, says Chaudhary.

4. Being scared is normal

It is natural to want to reassure your child. So phrases like “Don’t worry” or “There’s nothing to be afraid of”. But these well-intentioned reassurances can make your child feel like you’ve ignored or dismissed their fears, says Etkin. It is better to acknowledge the feelings. For example like this:

  • Instead of “Just stop thinking about it,” it tries “It takes courage to face your fear.”
  • Instead of “Give me a smile,” try “I’m sorry too.”
  • Instead of “I’m sorry you feel this way,” try “How can I help or support you with this?”

When an angry child smashes their toy or rips up a sibling’s book, say you understand their frustration. But also make it clear that they can deal with their frustration in other ways – for example, by tearing up a piece of paper, taking a deep breath or bouncing a ball against the wall.

5. Provides positive distraction

Sometimes your child just needs a positive distraction to distract themselves from what is making them anxious. A distraction can be any activity that arouses interest:

  • Read a favorite book
  • Bake a favorite dessert
  • painting
  • Playing a sport like basketball
  • Dance to a favorite song
  • Riddle

But remember that while distraction can provide distance from painful or unwanted feelings, it is not a permanent solution.

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6. Exercise can help

A large 2020 study found that children who engaged in at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity — such as cycling or exercising — had less anxiety. So if your child says they are anxious or worried, you can also offer one of the following activities:

  • Go for a walk in nature
  • Practice a favorite sport
  • to swim
  • cycle

7. Deal responsibly with your own fears

Showing your child how to deal with their own anxiety can help them learn effective coping skills themselves. “One of the best things parents can do to help their children and teens deal with anxiety is to model how they handle their own big emotions, stress, fear, or overwhelm. Kids are always watching their parents and emulating them , although older kids and teenagers don’t like to admit it,” says Chaudhary.

For example, you can tell your child:

  • “When I start to worry about something, I like to write it in a journal so I can get it out of my head.”
  • “I love doing yoga or meditation when I’m scared because it helps me feel so much calmer. Let’s try it together.”
  • “When I’m nervous, I take a few deep breaths to calm myself down.

8. Seek professional help

You don’t need to worry if your child experiences temporary anxiety, especially in response to a specific trigger, like a major sporting event or a final exam. But if your child is still anxious long after the stressful situation is over, or if their worries get worse over time, they may have an anxiety disorder. Other signs of an anxiety disorder, according to Mannis, include:

  • Behavioral changes such as moodiness, tantrums, clinging or crying
  • Persistent negative thoughts or worries
  • Withdrawal from family or friends
  • Avoid things that used to be fun
  • Frequent complaints of stomach or headache
  • Difficulty sleeping, such as waking up in the middle of the night or having nightmares

Keep a log of your child’s symptoms and the situations in which these behaviors occur, says Mannis. You can use this log to discuss your concerns with an expert. Etkin says it may be time to see a therapist if your child is anxious most days and it gets in the way of play, school or the rest of their daily life.

Teaching your child tools to deal with anxiety early on can help them develop greater resilience as they hit puberty and then into adulthood. Resilience enables your child to bounce back from challenges and difficulties by utilizing their unique strengths. This also provides protection against mental illnesses such as depression.

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This article was translated from English by Klemens Handke. You can find the original here.

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