When your child is feeling anxious, your first inclination may be to downplay the threat. As an adult, you can see that whatever is triggering their fear is harmless and by brushing it off, maybe you think your child will suddenly shift their perspective. Whether it’s an upcoming test or a visit to the dentist, your child’s triggers may be harmless to an adult who knows better, but they are still very real and very scary to a child who hasn’t learned how to cope with their anxiety in a productive way.
What happens when we distract from or brush off our children’s anxiety is the opposite of what we want to happen: their anxiety grows. To cope, the child must learn tools and practices to face the trigger, manage the feelings that arise, and mindfully calm themselves down. One such tool is knowing how to talk about what they’re feeling.
Read on to find out how to talk to your child about anxiety, including what to say and what not to say, and explore other tools to help reduce their symptoms.
Where to Start
Talking about anxiety in the midst of an anxious moment can be overwhelming for your child and not very productive. It’s best to dive into a conversation like this when your child is calm and relaxed.
For instance, if your child seemed anxious and distressed at a recent social event, bringing attention to it during the event might make them feel exposed and ashamed of their feelings. But talking about it after the event has passed can give them the time and space needed to go over the event together, process their feelings, and strategize. Picking the right time to talk is key if you want the talk to be successful.
Do: Create a Safe Space for Your Child to Open Up About Their Feelings
Creating a safe space means allowing your child to feel free to express themselves without judgment. Try to minimize distractions so they have your full attention by having the conversation in a private room free from phones, tablets, and other people. It’s also important to let them know that all feelings are welcome and permitted, even anxiety. Doing so will help them feel more confident and less resistant to facing these feelings head-on.
Don’t: Diminish Their Concerns
Sure, a spider may seem like a harmless dot on your wall, but to your anxious child with arachnophobia, the spider is a dangerous and menacing threat. By acknowledging that your child’s fears are real and valid, they will feel more likely to open up and be open to your guidance.
Do: Teach Your Child About Anxiety
Did you ever worry about monsters hiding under the bed as a child? The more you thought about them in the dark, the more frightening they became. But one flick of the light switch would reveal nothing was there and more than likely, the fear would subside. Anxiety is kind of like that. If you don’t turn on the light and see it for what it is, the more frightening it becomes.
When teaching your child about anxiety, it’s important you let them know that feeling anxious is normal and happens to everyone from time to time. They should know that anxiety can be dealt with if they know the right tools and practices. Even more, they should know that anxiety can and does become a problem if left unaddressed. There is always a way to cope and you’re going to help them learn how.
Don’t: Express Unrealistic Expectations
One conversation about the harmlessness of daddy longlegs is probably not enough to turn your kid into an insect enthusiast. Helping your child overcome their fears and cope with their anxiety includes having realistic expectations. They might always find insects creepy or get nervous at parties, and while you can’t promise their anxiety will disappear, you can promise that they can learn how to manage it.
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Helping Them Recognize Their Own Symptoms
No two kids experience anxiety the same way. Just like our triggers are different, so are our symptoms. Helping them to become aware of how their bodies react when anxious is the first step in helping them gain control.
These are the most common symptoms of anxiety in children:1
- Constant worry and negative thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Frequent headaches and stomach aches
Explaining Fight-or-Flight, Anxious Arousal, and Smoke Alarm Responses
It can also be helpful to point out what happens in your child’s body during the fight-or-flight response. One easy way to explain fight or flight is to travel back in time to talk about our early ancestors. Living amongst giant land predators like saber-toothed tigers, our ancestors had two options to protect themselves from getting eaten: fight the animal, or run away. To help them do this, their body prepared for either action with the following automatic responses:
- Breathing quickened to get more oxygen
- Heart rate increased to send blood to their muscles
- Bowels emptied to make the body faster and more agile
- Thoughts raced to keep a lookout for more threats
Once your child becomes aware of these automatic responses, they can help reduce them with a targeted approach: slowing down their breathing, tuning into their senses, having a drink of water, and progressively relaxing their muscles. All of these mindful actions work together to counteract the stress response, bring their minds back to the present moment, and feel back in control.
When to Seek Extra Help
If you feel that your child’s anxiety is not getting better and you need more support, you may want to try medication. While there are many prescription anti-anxiety medications available, at Brillia we recommend starting with a gentle homeopathic option first and using pharmaceuticals as a last resort. This can help avoid uncomfortable side effects associated with prescription medication like drowsiness, upset stomach, nausea, and appetite changes.
Brillia for Children is a non-prescription medication that uses targeted antibodies to the S100B protein, a key regulator of many different intracellular and extracellular brain processes, including various enzyme activities, calcium homeostasis, and communication between neurons. By regulating the activity of this protein, Brillia promotes calmness and clarity without any harsh chemicals or harmful side effects. As a result of this regulating effect, Brillia also normalizes the level of monoamines (dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin) in different parts of the brain. These are the same chemicals targeted by most anti-anxiety medications, though Brillia will not cause any off-target side effects, nor will the medication linger in the system too long.
Taking Brillia is just one facet of our holistic approach, which encourages healthy lifestyle habits as a foundation for kids struggling with anxiety. Known as the Five Pillars, this methodology outlines proper nutrition, adequate sleep, controlled screen time, and mindfulness as your first line of defense in managing symptoms. Brillia’s effectiveness is maximized by these habits, which will become second nature to your child the longer they practice them. This sets your child up with a long-term strategy they can use when dealing with their anxiety long after their need for medication has been met.