Helping Children Face Their Worries and Fears: Tips from Two Psychologists

As parents we do not like nor do we want to see our children have difficulties. But worries, fears and anxieties are a natural part of life and we have to understand that children go through these processes just like adults. But as parents and caregivers, we also need to be attuned to the degree, severity, frequency and nature of our children’s fears and worries and know when a child might need help.
Help can be seen as many things. It may simply be talking to your child, allowing him space to express his concerns, or feel comfortable and supported without fear of being judged, disciplined, or punished. More severe anxiety may require therapy or evidence-based treatments, such as exposure therapy, but one of the first and most important things a parent or caregiver can do to help a child with anxiety is to be there for them.

Two ADAA members answered key questions

The ADAA webinar How to Help Your Child Face Their Fears and Worries allowed parents, caregivers, teachers, counselors and other audience members to ask some interesting and important questions about when to worry about a child’s worries and how to help them. to overcome your fears and anxieties. . ADAA members and child psychologists Lynne Siqueland, PhD, and Rachel Busman, PsyD, discussed a variety of topics including overcoming school rejection, nightmares, bullying, avoiding bedtime, tips for worried grandparents, and puberty.

Key questions asked included:

  • What is a normal concern versus a more serious concern?
  • When should a parent intervene?
  • How should a parent or caregiver approach an overly anxious child?
  • Why it is important to help children overcome their worries and anxieties instead of avoiding them.

Drs. Siqueland and Busman stressed the importance of engaging with our children.

What to do and what not to do when your child is worried

Important takeaways from presenters included using developmentally appropriate language and behavior when talking to children about their anxieties, not rushing to solve the problem but discussing it, not judging or shaming, and encouraging children to accept the anxiety and try to overcome it . through. Taking an active approach and facing fears (through exposures) is the preferred approach and carers are in a good position to support this.

“Usually the child discovers that the situation is less difficult than he anticipated,” Dr. Siqueland relates in the webinar. “We want them to understand that everything will be okay even if they remain anxious in the moment, but that they were able to cope and tolerate the anxiety.”

Dr. Busman reiterates the importance of not using counterproductive delaying tactics. “I try to get the child to separate what he feels at the moment from the action he does or doesn’t do,” he says in the webinar, giving the example of a child who one day doesn’t get on the bus because of a nervous stomach. . but then they get on the bus another day when they feel fine and make inaccurate mental connections.

Tips on how to help children with anxiety

  • Strategies and suggestions offered in the webinar to help children whose anxiety interferes with their daily lives were:
  • Don’t use force; Rather, use positive reinforcement to help an anxious child (for example, rewards for facing her fears).
  • Identify a trigger or the nature of the fear; For example, fear of vomiting should be related to concerns about what others might think if the child vomits versus the fear of vomiting itself.
  • Reiterate that being uncomfortable is okay; Avoidance makes anxiety grow.
  • If an anxious behavior (hair twirling, making certain noises, nail biting, etc.) is not hurtful or dangerous and does not bother both the child and the parent, try to ignore it.
  • Validate the child’s feelings and concerns.
  • Be curious: Ask open-ended questions and show your concern and willingness to follow the child’s lead.
  • Seek professional help if necessary, especially if the child requests it.

Learn more: Watch the free webinar: How to Help Your Child Face Their Fears and Worries

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