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This month from the Kid Clinic: How to teach your child to cope with anxiety

This month from the Kid Clinic: How to teach your child to cope with anxiety

As parents, our duty is to protect our children and help to eliminate their struggles. Kids beg and plead to steer clear of what is causing their anxiety and over time this can lead to angry parents.

For example, a child is very anxious when they have to ride the bus to school, so they beg their parents "Please don't make me go!" This scenario leads parents to feel guilty, forcing their child into their black hole of anxiety. Parents have difficulty watching their child react to situations that don't seem scary to us, however those perceived threats create a very real nervous system response for a child suffering from anxiety.

Here are five tips for parents when raising an anxious child:

  1. Quit reassuring your child. When a child worries about something, a parent's response is "you have nothing to worry about, you trust me, right?" A child hears when parents attempt to soothe them, however their brain doesn't allow for the body to go into rest.
  2. Try the FEEL method.
    - Freeze: allow a few minutes to pause, and take a few deep breaths with your child paying close attention to their breathing. This helps their nervous system relax
    - Empathy: a child finds comfort in their parent understanding. Try responding with "I know it's scary right now."
    - Evaluate: once your child becomes calm. Brainstorm solutions together.
    - Let go: Let go of the guilt. Parents feel guilty for not being able to control all experiences of their child.
  3. Allow your child to worry. As you've experienced, telling an anxious child to not worry does not prevent this from happening. Avoiding the feelings does not help a child process them. Allow 10 or 15 minutes for your child to release their worries, or what we call worry time. This can be done through talking, drawing, writing or even create a worry box where they can place their anxiety. When worry time is over, close up the box and release their worries for the day.
  4. Create a worry scale. Together, parents and children can create a chart called "How big is your worry?" Allow a five- to 10-category chart, when a child is experiencing an anxious moment they rate how big they feel the worry is. This allows parents to understand how strong the child's symptoms are in that particular moment and encourages verbalization on behalf of the child.
  5. Prompt your child to use calming strategies. In an anxious moment, it is difficult for a child to think clearly or logically. As parents we can remind our child to use their calming strategies. Allow them to choose, or make suggestions if they are having difficulties. Parents don't be afraid to practice them with the child as well.

The Kid Clinic is a school-based pediatric clinic offering medical care and counseling services for Campbell County students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and their siblings over the age of 2. It is located at 800 Butler Spaeth Rd., across from St. Matthew's Catholic Church. The Kid Clinic is open Monday-Friday from 8 am-5 pm. For more information, call 307-688-8700 or visit www.cchwyo.org/kidclinic.

The Kid Clinic is a collaborative effort between Campbell County Health and Campbell County School District.

This blog was written by Carie Rose, PCSW