Anxious child? 10 ideas on what to say
No one likes to see their child suffering with anxiety, whether it is a common occurrence or just around a certain area in their lives. As adults we will look at the situation with different eyes and we may not see the anxiety provoking aspects of it.
This means our natural response would just be to tell the child that it is nothing to worry about and that things will be ok. We mean the best, but unfortunately it could look like we are dismissing their problems and children might shut down.
To open up discussion and show support to your child here are 10 other ideas for supporting an anxious child.
1. I feel like that sometimes too, it’s not very fun is it.
Starting from a place of empathy will help your child feel like you understand them. You don’t want to make it all about you, but unless you share, your child might feel like they’re the only one who feels like this.
It gives you the opportunity to share possible solutions, and things that work for you.
2. What do you need from me/do you want to talk?
Perhaps your child has an idea of what would help them. It’s worth asking! If they don’t want to talk right now, accept it and make a different suggestion. They may be more open at another time.
If they are really stuck, you could say ‘shall I plan something for us to do together?’
3. Do you want to learn more about it with me?
One way to overcome anxiety is to learn more about it. You could sit down together and watching some videos about anxiety, get a book from the library or talk to someone you know who has some knowledge on the subject.
Anxiety works the same way in adults and children, so you may learn something too!
4. Remember when you felt like this before?
This is a great way to get them thinking with perspective. It reminds them that they have faced it before – and – that it has gone away before.
5. Let’s go outside.
Going outside is often a quick way to start feeling a bit better. It helps to be moving our bodies, getting fresh air, raising the heart rate, getting a change of scenery and provides a rich sensory environment.
Regular exercise has been shown to lower the likelihood and intensity of anxiety felt.
6. Can you draw a picture of it?
Being able to visualise the feeling and give it a name/shape/colour will help your child feel some control over their situation, and to see the anxiety as something that is outside of themselves.
They can then choose to listen to it, or not. Painting/sculpting/drawing are helpful creative outlets that can be calming – plus it can make it easier for children struggling to describe things using words.
7. I need your help with something.
Helping your child feel useful, that they have a place, and that they can complete a task well – these are all powerful antidotes to feeling powerless or afraid. It can also provide a temporary distraction, so they have somewhere else to place their focus.
The task could be as simple as watching the time and letting you know when 2 minutes is up, or helping with dinner/sorting toys/an outdoor task.
8. I’m on your team.
It can feel very lonely being anxious or worried. Help your child remember you are there for them, and that it is you and them together, against the anxiety. Some children find it useful to ‘personify’ the anxiety as a monster or animal. It can be a worry monster, an annoying monkey, a silly worry parrot.
You can extend the discussion and talk about what you can both say to the worry monster. Things like: ‘Worry-monster is here to stop you having fun, what shall we do about that?’
9. This feeling will pass. What shall we do until it does?
One thing that is very important about childhood and adult anxiety alike, is that we want to minimise the focus on ‘making the feeling go away’. It’s tempting to try to distract from the feeling, to want to erase it from our minds and not feel it at all. But the most powerful antidote to anxiety, is the belief that we can tolerate it.
So, try to talk to your child about the anxiety coming and going, passing through like weather, and that it’s never here to stay. If you can show them it’s possible to continue living life despite feeling anxious, they will likely find they feel much more powerful and able to cope with it if it when it does rear its head.
10. I am proud of you no matter what.
This one is really important. Many children associate feeling anxious or worried with not being good enough. Or they worry that making a mistake or not being good at something says something about who they are as a person.
You can help with this by continually reinforcing the message that you are proud of who they are, regardless of the things they do/are good at. Extra points if you can model this in your own self talk!
Hopefully this gives you some ideas to open conversations with your child. If you would like more information dealing with anxiety in children have a look at my previous blog “What you can do right now to help your child with anxiety”.
About the Author
Nadine Isler is a Registered Psychologist who specialises in treating anxiety and related conditions. She finds the human brain fascinating and loves working with people from all walks of life. She was born in Switzerland and is now based in Auckland and has two children.
When to look for more help
Feeling anxious throughout life is normal for all of us. However, you might like to seek further help if
- Anxiety persists after your continued support and reassurance.
- If anxiety is becoming a permanent long-term part of your child’s life.
- If it is affecting their lives by limiting things they will do such as – attending school, joining clubs, making friends.
Please remember, this advice is general in nature and every person / child is different.
Here are some amazing resources we have found that might help you find further support.