Tips For Helping Children Manage Fear And Anxiety

December 17, 2021

Helping Children Manage Fear And Anxiety

Many children suffer from anxiety and fears. Some children feel anxious when they need to answer a question in class. Others have social anxiety. And children also could struggle with different types of fears, too. Fear of heights, fear of the dark or even separation anxiety or fears can cause children to not want to leave their parents.

It can be hard for parents to know how to handle a fearful or anxious child. Will a child outgrow these fears? Should parents be concerned? Parents can use these tips for helping children manage anxiety and fear.

Managing Anxiety

Managing Anxiety: Advice from a PhD

One of the best resources for parents who want to help their child manage anxiety is from Clark Goldstein, PhD. His article is posted at Child Mind Institute’s site. Goldstein offers 10 basic tips for parents when working with an anxious child. Here’s what he recommends:

Don’t Expect to Cure the Anxiety

Parents have a belief that they can, perhaps, just ‘poof’ away their child’s anxiety magically. Or cure it. Goldsteins’s first tip to parents is that they need to understand that the goal is all about helping children work through their anxiety.

Parents Also Shouldn’t Keep Children Away from the Fear or Anxiety Trigger

As parents, one of the easiest things to do to help a child is to protect them from it. But Goldstein explains this isn’t the best solution, because it will just cause the anxiety to continue. Nothing is really solved, and Goldstein writes that children will see avoidance as the way to deal with—or cope—with a stressor.

Parents can take this one step further and think about a child who is fearful of storms. As parents, we cannot stop storms. We might be able to turn on music to drown out thunder, but parents can’t stop thunder or even storms. Children have to learn how to cope with their fear or anxiety of this situation.

Don’t Be Unrealistic but Try to Stay Upbeat

Goldstein talks about how parents can’t really make promises that everything is going to be great in relation to a stressful situation but that children can learn to handle it positively. 

For example, Goldstein writes that parents shouldn’t tell a child that they’ll definitely love an activity—maybe they will hate it–and parents also can’t guarantee that the child won’t be heckled during show-and-tell. Yet in both situations, parents can help empower a child on how to handle the outcome.

Be Empathetic to Worries and Concerns without giving them Power

Talk to children about their fears and be supportive. Children can be afraid of the dentist or the doctor; both of these situations are unavoidable. And Goldstein uses the doctor example when writing about listening to children about their worries. He advises parents to support their child and reinforce that parents will help or be there.

To expand on this, parents can think about what would happen if they give the concern power. Would a parent really want to say “Yes, that shot is going to hurt soooo bad.” No! That would only amplify the child’s terror.

The child will still have to get the shot. Instead, parents can say that they understand the fear and they’ll hold their child’s hand during the appointment.

Stay Away from Leading Questions

Goldstein advises: “Don’t ask leading questions.” But why? And what are the leading questions? These types of questions are those that will put a belief in a child’s head. Goldstein uses the example of asking a child if they’re worried about a test. They might have been concerned about something else entirely, but now parents have put another fear into their mind.

Instead, parents can ask questions that encourage them to talk about what’s on their mind, and Goldstein advises that parents ask open-ended questions.

Don’t Flame the Fear

Parents shouldn’t flame the fear. They shouldn’t give the child’s fear power. Goldstein explains that parents can give children the wrong message with body language or words.

Parents could react to the expectation of their child reacting. So if a parent knows the child is afraid of the dentist, they may start to act nervous before taking their child to the dentist…anticipating their child’s future fearful reaction. But a parent’s reaction may just spark a child’s reaction.

Encourage Anxiety Tolerance

Goldstein advises that parents “Encourage the child to tolerate her anxiety.” The more a child is exposed to what makes them anxious, the less it will tend to induce serious anxiety. Essentially, a child slowly desensitizes to it. But Goldstein explains that the anxiety may never fully zero out.

Don’t Build Up the event

Goldstein tells parents to “Try to keep the anticipatory period short.” Don’t build it up. Hours before the dentist, don’t start talking about the dentist.

Explore the Situation with Children

Or, as Goldstein advises: “Think things through with the child.” This involves talking about the worst that can happen. The biggest fear is probably the worst case scenario, so talk it over with children calmly. Help them understand how they would handle that scenario…prepare them for it.

Model Healthy Behaviors

In so many situations, experts advise parents to be the model. This is true for anxiety and fear, too. If parents are stressing out and freaking out, children will learn from this. How do parents handle their anxiety? Is it healthy? Be the role model.

Other Advice and Tips

Some children may deal with fears and anxiety that doesn’t abate even when parents try all the expert tips and guidance. Some children may have panic attacks or serious phobias. If parents are concerned about fear and anxiety, they should call their child’s pediatrician.

A child’s doctor can provide referrals or other help for children who struggle with anxiety, social phobias or other crippling fears. Parents understand their child best, and if that pit in the stomach tells a parent something is wrong…listen to it and call the doctor.

Sometimes parents don’t know when to worry…and what is considered ‘normal’ related to childhood fears. Aetna provides a checklist of normal phobias or worries and when parents should reach out to a doctor about anxiety.

School Anxiety

School Anxiety

For some children, anxiety is related to schoolwork. Children who struggle to read may deal with anxiety about their reading and may want to avoid reading aloud at school. While the above tips may help, parents who suspect reading concerns can call their child’s pediatrician (who may make other referrals) and, of course, the child’s teacher for additional resources.

Some children might not have major anxiety but may simply lack reading confidence. Parents can read with children to help them practice and to help them build confidence. Encourage children to read aloud. Parents and children also could alternate each reading a page. 

A reading program like Readability could help children practice reading at home. Lessons via Readability are read aloud; the program includes a built-in AI tutor that provides help during lessons when a child struggles with a word.

Children advance to a more difficult reading level when they demonstrate proficiency with both reading fluency and reading comprehension. Every child will advance at their own rate, but parents can gain an understanding of their child’s progress by viewing their reading data via the Parent Dashboard.

There are many reading programs that parents can use to help their child at home. Sometimes the best way to find the best program for a child is to see if they like it. Parents can sign up for a free seven-day trial to let their child explore the program and use the reading tutor.