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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Wolf-Owczarek

Getting a Handle on Childhood Anxiety

Information for parents and caregivers 

 

Childhood anxiety is a common mental health concern that affects children and their families.  Parents often feel unsure of how to best support their child and when to seek help.  

The prevalence of childhood anxiety is around 7% according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.  Different types of anxiety exist with generalized anxiety (excessive worry) being the most common.  Anxiety disorders can also appear as separation anxiety (afraid of being away from parents), social anxiety (being afraid of social situations) and specific phobias (intense fear of a specific situation).  


Anxiety is a natural human emotion, and can be protective. However, when anxiety becomes excessive, irrational and interferes with daily life it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as stomach aches, headaches, feeling nauseous, and irritability. Emotionally you might see your child worry, struggle to focus, be restless or be fearful.  The cause of anxiety is a combination of genetic factors, environmental factors and brain chemistry. Identifying and addressing anxiety early can prevent it from becoming more severe and disruptive over time.


Anxiety can impact daily life. Anxiety makes it difficult to connect socially, can affect a child’s ability to succeed at school  (learning becomes difficult), and can cause problems in family life.  Children may avoid situations that trigger anxiety, which in turn limits their experiences and opportunities for growth.


A child and adult play with magnaforms together to create connection.
Adult and child playing with magnaforms


How to help your anxious child:

 

1.      Emotional Validation:  Acknowledge your child’s feeling of anxiety without dismissing or trivializing them. Let them know their feelings are valid and offer comfort.

Eg. Child: “ I am scared about going to my new school tomorrow. What if I don’t make any friends?”

Parent: “I understand that starting a new school can be really scary. It’s normal to feel nervous about making new friend. Lots of kids feel this way when they start something new. How you feel makes sense, and I am here to support you.  Lets talk about some strategies to make new friends.”

 

2.      Empathy and Active Listening:  Help your child express themselves. Ask open ended questions and listen actively. Help them feel understood and less alone in their anxiety.

 

3.      Gradual Exposure:  Help your child face their fears gradually, in a controlled and supportive manner. Help build confidence in anxiety provoking situation. 

Eg, your child is scared of dogs, start with learning about dogs, then watching dogs from a distance, meeting a small calm dog, touching a dog. Little steps that create confidence.

 

4.      Problem Solving skills: Teach your child to problem solve, and approach their worries. Break down problems into smaller steps, this promotes a sense of control.

 

5.      Coping Strategies:  Practice breathing, mindfulness and find activities that help your child calm down.  Some great apps are: Insight timer (free), Calm, Go Zen, and Head Space.

 

6.      Model Healthy Coping: Demonstrate how you handle your own stress and anxiety in healthy ways. Be a positive example for your child.

 

7.      Predictability and Routine: Establish consistent routines and expectations. Predictability can help reduce anxiety by creating a sense of stability.

 

8.      Positive Reinforcement:  Offer praise and encouragement when your child faces their fears and uses coping strategies.

 

9.      Professional Help:  If anxiety is significantly interfering with your child’s daily life, consider seeking help from a mental health professional who specializes in treating anxiety disorders in children.


Calm down jars can be a great tool for relaxing.
Child pouring glitter in a Calm Down Jar

Free Resources for Parents and Children:

 

GoZen! Offers a range of resources including videos, games and worksheets to teach kids essential skills for managing anxiety and building resilience.

 

Anxiety Canada (formerly AnxietyBC) offers a dedicated section for parents and children. Providing information and resources to help children and parents understand anxiety.

 

WorryWiseKids is an initiative of the Children Center for OCD and Anxiety that provides educational resources to help children and teens manage their anxiety.

 

If you are seeking psychological support for your child, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Green Door Clinic. We are here to provide assistance and guidance tailored to your child’s needs.

 

#230, 7915-104Street

587-989-5292


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