As a mother of a child with an anxiety disorder, I know how hard it is to help a young child who is having an anxiety attack. My child is a teen now, but we spent many hours together trying to calm my daughter when she was suffering from anxiety. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) can have a big impact on a child’s life, interfering with home and school. It can be very hard to help your young child when he is suffering from an anxiety attack. Young children have a hard time understanding what is happening to them and this can make the attack even worse.
I wanted to teach my child how to deal with anxiety on her own. As a teacher, I believe education is the key to solving problems, so I began to research methods for dealing with anxiety in young children. I would like to share some of the things that worked for our family.
One advantage of working with a young child is that they are not self-conscious. Anxiety reducing exercises can be presented as a fun “game” and your child can learn to calm themselves without even realizing what is happening.
It is important to let your child know that sometimes our brains make us worry about things that we don’t need to worry about. Help your child separate his anxiety from himself by giving the anxious feeling a name, such as Mr. Worry. Most children like to draw, so ask your child to draw a picture of Mr. Worry. Be sure to spend time talking to your child about the picture (Look at Mr. Worry, what a silly guy he is to try to make you upset!). Use your child’s imagination to help him things of ways he might get Mr. Worry to leave him alone. The goal is to teach your child to recognize that anxiety is a feeling he can control. Tell your child that anxiety is just a way your brain is playing a trick on you, or it’s like a glitch in a computer program. It’s just a little problem that can be solved.
Another method that worked for my daughter was something called a “fear thermometer”. Explain to your child that a fear thermometer is just like the thermometer we use to measure the temperature outside. It helps to draw a picture of a thermometer, with numbers labeled one to ten. When your child is having an anxiety attack, pull out the thermometer and ask her to pick a number to tell how bad her anxiety is. Ten is when anxiety is the worst. Your child can color the fear thermometer up to the number she chooses. You may have to help your child the first few times. This exercise helps your child to take charge of her feelings and also distracts her.
As you practice these exercises, you and your child will learn how to better handle anxiety attacks. You will feel better as you see your child gaining control of her anxiety. Your child will probably have less anxiety attacks and you will both feel better. New experiences will not cause your child to have anxiety and you can look forward to spending time together.
Disclaimer: This article was written to educate. If you have any questions about your health, please contact your medical professional.