The first day of school is always the hardest for anxious children. But this year, the class size has almost doubled. Most of the kids were excited and chatting with one another.
All of a sudden, Sara got up and ran out of class. I could tell by the look on her face that she was about to have a panic attack. I was able to get another teacher to watch my class while I went after her.
She had run to the girls’ restroom and was crying in a stall—this time, I was equipped with the resources to help her calm down.
Anxiety is a disorder that many children struggle with on a daily basis. They feel nervous, fearful, and overwhelmed. This can affect their whole life. Before I share ways to help your child with anxiety, let’s cover the different types of anxiety disorders children may have.
4 Types of Anxiety Disorders Children Have
You may be concerned that your child’s mood or behavior is a symptom of an anxiety problem. Anxiety is all around us, even in children, and it doesn’t always affect each person in the same way. Here are four types of anxiety disorders.
#1 Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder or GAD is an anxiety disorder characterized by excessive worry and anxiousness that is not always brought on by anything in particular.
This worry that something bad will happen is one of the most frequent types of anxiety. Some children have specific causes for their worry, while others are anxious all the time.
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GAD can have a significant impact on children’s lives. It can make it difficult to make friends and hinder their schoolwork. It’s not unusual for kids with GAD to become perfectionists, which is a good indication that something might be wrong.
#2 Panic Disorder or Panic Attacks
Panic disorder may be caused by an array of factors such as:
- Worry about future problems
- Traumatic event
Panic disorder can also be linked to other types of anxiety, such as GAD. Your kid not only has anxiety when they have panic disorder, but they are also prone to panic attacks.
This can be both frightening and uncomfortable for kids and adults. Panic attacks are typically brief. However, they may often feel like they have a heart attack.
I actually took my daughter to the emergency room because she was having chest pains during cheerleading practice. I was terrified that she was actually having a heart attack. That was her first panic attack.
Common Symptoms of Panic Attacks
- Your heart is racing
- You have sweaty hands and your temperature increases
- Feeling of confusion
- Fixation on one thing
#3 Separation Anxiety
As a parent, you have probably experienced separation anxiety in your child when they were a toddler. But even as they become older, children might have separation anxiety.
You might see this when you leave her with a sitter, at school, or at church. There are several approaches to help with separation anxiety, so it’s best to consult with a therapist about how to assist your child in overcoming the condition.
#4 Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia
When your child has social anxiety, it’s generally only when they’re in a social setting that she experiences anxiety or panic attacks. This may range from being unable to communicate with anyone other than family or having anxiety when among a group of people.
Your child may want to sit in the back of the classroom, where they believe no one is watching them. She may sit alone at lunch or on the playground. But with one friend or family member, they are fine.
Other Anxiety Disorders
- Specific phobias
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
If you feel your child may be suffering from an anxiety disorder you should speak with a mental health professional.
How to Help Your Anxious Child
When your child struggles with anxiety, it’s difficult to know how to help her. Fortunately, I do have some strategies to try. Let’s explore how you can help your anxious child feel less nervous, fearful, and overwhelmed.
If you have ever experienced a child having a tantrum in public, you probably already know that distraction is key. This works with anxious children as well.
It is important to get your child not to think about what is causing them to be anxious. Here are some ideas for distractions:
- Fidget toys
- Sensory activities such as playdough, sand, or water
- Read a book
- Favorite stuffed animal
- Stress Ball
- Calm box
- Soothing calm bottle
- Cook together
- Play catch
- Take turns telling a story (as silly as possible)
Teach Your Anxious Child Breathing Exercises
Deep breathing exercises can help your anxious teen or child to calm down and relax. Try the following deep breathing exercises with your children:
- Belly breathing– breathe in through the nose and out of the mouth, watching your belly rise and fall.
- Tongue-tip breathing- place tip of the tongue behind front teeth, breathe in through the nose and exhale from the open mouth.
- Box breathing– inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath in for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds and hold your breath out for 4 seconds.
Journaling- Have Them Write Out the Problem
Journaling can be a huge help to children with anxiety. Sometimes anxiety in a child is linked to something specific, and writing out their problem helps.
For example, your child may be anxious about an assignment at school that they have to present in front of the class. Or your child could be anxious about starting a new school.
Provide your child with a journal and let them know they can write down their feelings. Promise her you, nor anyone else, has to read it unless she wants you to.
Create a Calm Box or Space
A calm box is a box of various items for children with anxiety that you can have handy in the event they need it. You will want to create your child’s box based on what specifically helps calm your child. You can also create a calm space in your home with these items.
Ideas For Your Child’s Calm Box
- Something soft and cuddly to hold onto, such as a blanket, stuffed animal, or pillow, helps with calming a panic attack.
- Supplies for activities that give your child a creative outlet, such as crayons, sketchbooks, or clay, will help distract their mind.
- Things your child can play quietly in their hands, such as a fidget toy, stress ball, or tangle, will help divert their focus.
- Something that will help to take away overwhelm, such as a photo album of family pictures, headphones to calm too much noise, or an eye mask to calm visual overwhelm.
Reward Your Child’s Courage and Bravery
Even though anxious children may struggle to overcome their fears and participate in activities that scare them, they can succeed if they try.
You want to put emphasis on your child being brave enough to try. You don’t want to scold them or make them feel bad for being anxious.
To help your anxious child feel more comfortable about trying new things, you can reward her with a fun activity- for example, playing a video game or seeing a movie together.
Use Social Stories
Social stories can help prepare your child for all kinds of situations. Check out these two blog posts about social stories.
- How to Easily Create Social Stories to Successfully Teach Children
- Social Stories For Teens: Empower Your High School Student With Special Needs
It can be difficult to know how to help anxious children. The best way is often a combination of several methods, but one good place to start is one of these strategies I shared.
Remember that you don’t want your child’s anxious feelings shamed- instead, try giving rewards when they do try something new (and make sure you’re there for moral support!).
What have you found that helps your child when they are anxious? Share in the comments below.
Check Out These Additional Resources to Help Your Anxious Children
- Anxiety Disorder Defined | Special Education Decoded
- Overpowering Effects Of Anxiety In Children
- Best Books to Help a Child with Anxiety and Worry
- Animals And Anxiety
- Test Anxiety Strategies for High School Students (24 Proven Ways)
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