One of the trends that the Youth Services staff has been seeing over the past few years is the increasing number of children who experience high levels of anxiety. Parents need to know that there is no reason to panic. If your child seems to show anxiety—adding your own may unwittingly fuel that of your child.
In point of fact, it is often the case that much of what children fear is rooted more in imagination than in reality. Parents may be called upon to ease anxieties about everything from strange noises, to water, from spiders in the yard, to monsters under the bed. Comforting children seized with irrational fears can be a difficult task.
Tamar E. Chansky, a psychotherapist who treats anxious children and adults and who wrote a practical guide, ‘Freeing Your Child From Anxiety’, said the goal was not to put down children’s fears, but to help them see that their fears are unwarranted and that they can overcome them.
She has created a ‘master plan’ for helping children gain control over their anxiety:
1) Empathize with your child. Resist the temptation to tell the child there is nothing to worry about, and instead acknowledge the child’s concerns and the effect they have.
2) Describe the problem as coming from ‘the worry brain’ that jumps to conclusions and cannot be trusted. Give worry a name, like ‘brain bug’. This takes the focus from the child’s particular fear and makes anxiety itself the problem.
3) Rewire and resist. Ask your child what she is really worried about and what she thinks might happen. Then ask her to check whether these thoughts really make sense. Help her find inner strength, the voice that tells worry it is ‘not the boss’.
4) Teach relaxation techniques to temper the biological alarm to fight or flee whenever fear takes over.
5) Help the child focus on what he wants to do and what he would do if worry were ‘not in charge’.
6) Finally, reinforce your child’s efforts, praising her for getting through a tough situation.
For those in need of professional help, therapy can produce “meaningful clinical improvement in 50- to 75-percent of children,” Dr. Golda Ginsburg said. “Anxiety is a chronic illness that can emerge in times of environmental crises or change,” she said. “Prevention is important. I want parents to be proactive rather than reactive. A minor adjustment can prevent re-emerging anxiety from interfering with a child’s life.”
When minor adjustments do not seem to be working, it may be time to consult with a therapist. The following are red flags that might warrant a consultation:
1) Age-inappropriate clinginess or tantrums
2) Constant complaints of physical sickness
3) Withdrawal from friends, family or peers
4) Refusing to go to school for weeks
5) Preoccupation with intense fear or guilt
6) Excessive fear of leaving the house
For more information, feel free to call the staff of the Youth Services Department at 847-981-0373.