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HealthInfo Canterbury

Helping my child with anxiety

You can do a lot to help your anxious child.

It's important to understand that anxious children often have an anxious parent. Treating your child’s anxiety without addressing your own anxiety is unlikely to change anything.

If you struggle with anxiety, getting help for your own anxiety is a very important first step. It'll help you teach your child to manage their anxiety in a healthy way.

It’s important to understand how your child behaves when they're anxious. Different children need different responses. Anxious children can generally be divided into two groups. Some children excessively seek closeness with a parent when they're anxious. Other children become defiant and develop difficult behaviour.

A child who seeks closeness when they're anxious mostly wants reassurance. It's very instinctive for a parent to provide reassurance. But if you do all the reassuring, your child won't learn how to soothe themselves. Parents can also get frustrated by this.

Teaching your child coping strategies is very important. If they can soothe themselves when they're feeling anxious, they won't need to rely on an adult. The Anxiety Disorders Association of British Columbia (AnxietyBC) has many tools and plans to help children develop their own ways to cope with anxiety.

Children who become angry, defiant, or exhibit difficult behaviours need a different response. It's important to recognise that anxiety is at the heart of this behaviour. But what your child needs most is kind and consistent discipline. This will teach your child that you're in charge and can handle the problem that your child is struggling with.

Consequences and boundaries that are fair and consistent tell your child that the world is a predictable place that makes sense. Giving them a comforting sense of where they fit in will reduce their anxiety. The Australian Raising Children Network has tips and tools for behaviour management.

Home balance

Getting the balance right in the home is important for anxious children. Some of the basics of life might be out of balance and need adjusting.

The following areas of life are important for children to thrive:

Possible causes of anxiety

Your child may be anxious about specific issues or events, or they may worry about many things. You may know about these problems and be trying to help. Or you may not appreciate how much these problems are affecting your child. It's common for parents to underestimate how anxious their child is.

Problems could be: bullying, the death or illness of a family member or pet, not having many friends at school, or a teacher who doesn't understand the child well. Other problems could be: learning difficulties, long-term health issues, or intellectual impairment.

Children have a much more limited range of skills for coping with difficulties than adults. Often, they don’t know how to explain their problems, let alone ask for help.

Unfortunately, some children are exposed to violence, abuse or neglect. Anxiety can be the way they express their distress about this. If there's a possibility that a child is at risk of harm or in danger, contact Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children on 0508-326-459.

The following resources may help you help your child with specific difficulties that could be making them anxious:

Mindfulness and relaxation

If your child is struggling with anxiety, you might want to try mindfulness or guided meditation. The following internet-based programmes can help children with anxiety.

Online self-help for parenting an anxious child

AnxietyBC has online self-help material for parents to work through with their children. Its goal is to provide parents and children with new skills for responding to anxious thoughts in more healthy ways. You can work through the material at home with your child.

Helplines

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Getting help for my child with anxiety

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by Child and Family Psychologist, Canterbury DHB. Page created October 2018.

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