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How To Help A Child With Anxiety

What Causes Sports Anxiety

How Parents Can Help With Child Anxiety | UCLA CARES Center

Two types of stressors lead to increased anxiety in athletes: performance stressors and organizational stressors.

  • Performance stressors are related to preparation, risk of injury, expectations, self-consciousness, and rivalry.
  • Organizational stressors are related to the competition environment, an athletes perceived responsibility, leadership, and expectations for improvement.

Lots of factors determine the way an athlete responds to competition stress . These factors include:

  • The athletes typical sport anxiety level
  • The nature of the competitive situation
  • Personal coping strategies

If an athlete is generally nervous in sport or competitive situations, if they are feeling a lot of pressure, or if they lack coping strategies, he or she is much more likely to lose control.

In order to break the pattern of anxiety, an athletes brain must be re-wired for success. Kids need to learn a new reaction to competition. I teach athletes simple cognitive strategies that dissolve the pressure of big competitions. Successful athletes have developed a mindset that allows them put their best foot forward every time.

Dont Avoid Things Just Because They Make A Child Anxious

Helping children avoid the things they are afraid of will make them feel better in the short term, but it reinforces the anxiety over the long run. If a child in an uncomfortable situation gets upset, starts to crynot to be manipulative, but just because thats how she feelsand her parents whisk her out of there, or remove the thing shes afraid of, shes learned that coping mechanism, and that cycle has the potential to repeat itself.

Therapies For Anxiety Disorder

Cognitive behavioral therapy is often described as the gold standard therapy for anxiety disorders, CBT is a short-term therapy whose core principle is that what we think, how we feel, and how we behave are all closely connected and together strongly influence well-being. During therapy sessions, children gradually grasp that what they think and do affects how they feel. They also learn how to challenge and question the validity of negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. CBT helps kids understand that avoiding their fear makes the fear stronger while facing the fear will make the child stronger. The therapist helps the child practice techniques to help them face their worries and tolerate the associated anxiety and builds up their confidence through praise and through their accomplishments.

Through exposure to anxiety-producing situations, the child will be better able to tolerate anxiety-provoking situations and the associated worries. For CBT to be successful, the child must be willing to actively and consistently participate in the therapy and do the required exercises outside of sessions. For some children, especially young children, that can be challenging so its really important that the child and the therapist have a strong relationship.

Recommended Reading: How To Treat Morning Anxiety

Symptoms Of Social Anxiety Disorder

The median age at onset of social anxiety disorder is 13 years, and 75% have an age at onset between 8 and 15 years. The disorder can emerge out of a childhood history of social inhibition or shyness but can also be triggered by a traumatic experience, including bullying.1 Approximately 15 million Americans suffer from social anxiety disorder. 2

The defining feature of social anxiety disorder includes marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the person might be subject to possible scrutiny by others. Examples include social interactions, being observed by others, and performing in front of others. 3

Other symptoms of social anxiety disorder include the following:

  • The person feels that he or she will act in a way or show anxiety symptoms that will be negatively evaluated
  • The social situations always trigger fear or anxiety
  • Social situations are avoided or endured with intense feelings of fear and anxiety
  • The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat
  • The fear, anxiety, and avoidance lasts for 6 months or more
  • Causes clinically significant distress in social, occupational , or other areas of functioning
  • Dread of social events that can occur weeks in advance
  • Excessive clinging to familiar people
  • Tantrums when faced with anxiety provoking social situations
  • Blaming others for perceived social failures
  • Physical symptoms: Blushing, racing heart, shaky voice, trembling, nausea, difficulty speaking

Something Sentimental To Remind Them Of You

5 tips to support kids with separation anxiety when ...

Give your child something they can hold onto that has sentimental value and will remind them that even though youre apart you love them and you are coming back.

This could be literally anything a piece of matching jewelry, a clothing item, a small toy from your childhood, a picture of the two of you together, etc.

Recommended Reading: Can A General Physician Prescribe Anxiety Medication

Ask Your Child To Write Down His/her Worries On A Piece Of Paper And Dispose Of Them

In the past, we have flushed worries down the toilet or thrown them in the rubbish bin.

Our latest addition to this technique has been the Monster that Eats our Worries.

These super cute monsters have a zip on their mouth. After you write down your worried thought you put it inside the monster´s mouth and zip it closed. That way you dispose of your worry or bad thoughts

Think Things Through With The Child

Sometimes it helps to talk through what would happen if a childs fear came truehow would she handle it? A child whos anxious about separating from her parents might worry about what would happen if they didnt come to pick her up. So we talk about that. If your mom doesnt come at the end of soccer practice, what would you do? Well I would tell the coach my moms not here. And what do you think the coach would do? Well he would call my mom. Or he would wait with me. A child whos afraid that a stranger might be sent to pick her up can have a code word from her parents that anyone they sent would know. For some kids, having a plan can reduce the uncertainty in a healthy, effective way.

Recommended Reading: How To Know If You Have Stress Or Anxiety

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the idea that how we think and act both affect how we feel. By changing thinking that is distorted, and behavior that is dysfunctional, we can change our emotions. With younger children, focusing first on the behavioral part of CBT can be most effective.

To understand how CBT works, first it helps to understand how anxiety works. Serious untreated anxiety tends to get worse over time, not better, because the child learns that avoidance works in reducing the anxiety, at least in the short run. But as the child and, indeed, the whole family work to avoid triggering those fears, they only grow more powerful. The goal in CBT is, essentially, to unlearn avoidant behavior.

One of the most important techniques in CBT for children with anxiety is called exposure and response prevention. The basic idea is that kids are exposed to the things that trigger their anxiety in structured, incremental steps, and in a safe setting. As they become accustomed to each of the triggers in turn, the anxiety fades, and they are ready to take on increasingly powerful ones.

Exposure therapy is very different from traditional talk therapy, in which the patient and a therapist might explore the roots of the anxiety, in hopes of changing their behavior. In exposure therapy we try to change the behavior to get rid of the fear.

Other Ways To Ease Anxiety In Children

Anxiety : How to Help Kids With Anxiety
  • teach your child to recognise signs of anxiety in themselves
  • encourage your child to manage their anxiety and ask for help when they need it
  • children of all ages find routines reassuring, so try to stick to regular daily routines where possible
  • if your child is anxious because of distressing events, such as a bereavement or separation, look for books or films that will help them to understand their feelings
  • if you know a change, such as a house move, is coming up, prepare your child by talking to them about what is going to happen and why
  • try not to become overprotective or anxious yourself
  • practice simple relaxation techniques with your child, such as taking 3 deep, slow breaths, breathing in for a count of 3 and out for 3. You’ll find more guidance for helping children with anxiety on the Young Minds website
  • distraction can be helpful for young children. For example, if they are anxious about going to nursery, play games on the way there, such as seeing who can spot the most red cars
  • turn an empty tissue box into a “worry” box. Get your child to write about or draw their worries and “post” them into the box. Then you can sort through the box together at the end of the day or week

Recommended Reading: How To Cure Anxiety Naturally

Tips For Parenting Anxious Children

Many well-meaning parents try to protect anxious kids from their fears, but overprotecting can actually make anxiety worse. Here are pointers for helping kids cope with anxiety without reinforcing it.

1. Don’t try to eliminate anxiety do try to help a child manage it.The best way to help kids overcome anxiety is to help them learn to tolerate it as well as they can. Over time the anxiety will diminish.

2. Don’t avoid things just because they make a child anxious.Helping children avoid the things they are afraid of will make them feel better in the short term, but it reinforces the anxiety over the long run.

3. Express positivebut realisticexpectations.Don’t promise a child that what she fears won’t happenthat you know she won’t fail the testbut do express confidence that she’ll be able to manage whatever happens.

4. Respect her feelings, but don’t empower them.Validating feelings doesn’t mean agreeing with them. So if a child is terrified about going to the doctor, do listen and be empathetic, but encourage her to feel that she can face her fears. 5. Don’t ask leading questions.Encourage your child to talk about her feelings, but try not to ask leading questions: “Are you anxious about the big test? Instead, ask open-ended questions: “How are you feeling about the science fair?”6. Don’t reinforce the child’s fears.Avoid suggesting, with your tone of voice or body language: “Maybe this is something that you should be afraid of.”

Getting Help For Your Child

Its a good idea to seek professional support if self-help strategies are not making the situation better and anxiety is affecting your childs life – for example if they are feeling persistently anxious, often having distressing thoughts, or avoiding things like going outside or speaking to others.

There are different places where you can find help for your child. Your GP, your child’s school and considering whether counselling or therapy might help are good places to start.

You can find out more about speaking to GPs, finding a counsellor or therapist, accessing Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services , getting help from your childs school and finding local services on our guide to getting help for your child.

Read Also: What Is The Best Benzodiazepines For Anxiety

Work On Friendship Skills

While you cant make friends for your child, you can help your child practice friendship skills. Practice these skills using role play and modeling to help your child feel at ease with peers:

  • Greetings
  • Sliding in and out of groups
  • Conversation starters
  • Asking follow up questions/making follow up statements

Social Anxiety Is My Old Friend

10 Tips to Parent Your Anxious Child

9. Help your child to problem solve.

Once you have validated your child’s emotions and demonstrated that you understand your child’s experience and are listening to what your child has to say, help your child to problem solve. This does not mean solving the problem for your child. It means helping your child to identify possible solutions. If your child can generate solutions, that is great. If not, generate some potential solutions for your child and ask your child to pick the solution that he or she thinks would work best.

10. Stay calm.

Children look to their parents to determine how to react in situations. We’ve all seen a young child trip and fall and then look to their parent to see how to react. If the parent seems concerned, the child cries. This is because the child is looking to their parent for a signal of how to react to the situation. Children of all ages pick up on their parent’s emotions and resonate with them. If you are anxious, your child will pick up on that anxiety and experience an increase in his/her own anxiety. So when you want to reduce your child’s anxiety, you must manage your own anxiety. This may mean deliberately slowing down your own speech, taking a few deep breaths to relax, and working to ensure that your facial expression conveys that you are calm.

11. Practice relaxation exercises with your child.

12. Never give up.

To find a professional who can help with stress and anxiety, visit Psychology Today’s therapy directory.

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The Bully In The Brain

For children with anxiety disorders, the process begins by helping them, and their parents, get some distance from the anxiety and start thinking of it as a thing that is separate from who they are. One way I do this is by having them conceptualize it as a bully in the brain, and I encourage kids to give the bully a name and talk back to him. Kids Ive worked with have called him the Witch, Mr. Bossy, Chucky, the Joker, and, in the case of some teenagers, names I cannot repeat here.

We explain that we are going to teach skills to handle the bully, giving children the idea that they can control their anxiety rather than it controlling them.

Its also important to help kids really understand how their anxiety is affecting their lives. I may actually map out things a child cant do because of their fears like sleeping in their own bed, or going to a friends house, or sharing meals with their own family and how that makes them feel. Getting kids to understand how their anxiety works and gaining their trust is important because the next step facing down their fears depends on them trusting me.

Adopting Robert Frosts observation that the only way around is through, exposure therapy slowly and systematically helps a child face their fears, so they can learn to tolerate their anxiety until it subsides rather than reacting by seeking reassurance, escaping, avoidance or engaging in ritualistic behaviors such as hand washing.

Use A Visual Schedule

A visual schedule can easily be understood, even by children who cant yet read or who are nonverbal.

It also provides stability uncertainty may cause major stress for kids with autism. This usually stems from not having a full understanding of how the world works.

The most important part of the visual schedule for a child with separation anxiety is that it includes COMING HOME.

This is something your child should be able to keep with them and look at throughout the day. It can serve as a tangible reminder that they will be reunited with you at the end of their school day.

You can find some great tips and free graphics for creating your own visual schedule in this article.

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