Talking to Your Child about Anxiety


1 Talking to Your Child or Teen about Anxiety Why is it important to talk about anxiety? often don’t recognize their anxiety for what it is. Instead, they may think there is something Children and teens “wrong” with them. C hildren may focus on the physical symptoms of anxiety (e.g. stomachaches). T eens may more think they are weird, weak, out of control, or even going crazy! These thoughts might make them feel even Th anxious and self-conscious. , the first step is to teach your child about anxiety and how to recognize it. erefore S elf-awareness is essential! The Facts! Myth: Talking to your child about anxiety will make them even MORE anxious. Fact : Providing accurate information about anxiety can reduce confusion or shame. Explain that anxiety is a common and normal experience, and it can be managed successfully! Once your child understands to make life easier. this , he or she will feel more motivat ed How to do it: There are three steps to introducing the topic of anxiety to your child: Step 1 : Encouraging your child to open up about any fears and worries Step 2 : Teaching your child about anxiety Step 3 : Helping your child recognize anxiety Step 1: Encouraging your child to open up about worries and fears: Start by describing a recent situation when you observed some signs of anxiety in your child. “ Yesterday, when Sarah came over, you seemed very quiet and you just sat beside Mom. It seemed you may have been a bit nervous about having a visitor in our house. What was t hat like for you ?” age Tell your child about some things you were scared of when you were the same (especially if you shared the same types of fears), and ask if he or she has any similar worries or fears. Ask what worries him or her the most. You may have to prompt younger children by offering Being an example such as: “I know some kids are scared of ___, do you have that fear too?” specific can help your child sort through confusing fears and feelings. When your child expresses anxiety or worry , offer reassurance by saying you believe him or , and that having those feelings her is okay. Remember, your child will take cues from you. anada C © Anxiety

2 2 Show acceptance of worry thoughts and anxious feelings. If you stay calm, it will help your child stay calm, too! !" help you when you're Does heari ng “ Don’t worry. Relax Tip: anxious about something? It probably doesn't comfort your child much, either. It’s important to acknowledge that your child’s fears are real . Your empathy will increase the chances that your child will accept y our guidance, and discuss his or her fears with you in the future.. Step 2: Teaching Your Child about Anxiety: Four important points to communicate to your child: 1. Anxiety is normal . Everyone experiences anxiety at times. For example, it is normal to feel anxious when on a rollercoaster, or before a test. Some teens may appreciate some facts about how common Did you know that “ anxiety problems are. For example, -in-seven children under 18 will suffer from a one ” real problem with anxiety? feel uncomfortable, it doesn’ . Though anxiety t last long 2. Anxiety is not dangerous may , is temporary, and such will eventually decrease! Also, most people cannot tell when you are anxious (except those close to you as your parents). in the 3. Anxiety is adaptive. Anxiety helps us prepare for real danger (such as a bear confronting us performing at our best (for example, it helps us get ready for a for woods) or ). When big game or speech to defend we experience anxiety , it triggers our “fight -flight- freeze” response and prepares our bodies . For instance, our heart bea ts faster to pump blood to our muscles so we have the energy to themselves may not be run away or fight off danger. When we freeze, we the danger noticed , allowing to pass. This d as a species! response is also called “anxious arousal”. Without anxiety, humans would not have survive -Freeze response -Flight to a child : How you can explain the Fight What is the are hiking in the woods and you c “Imagine you first thing you ome across a bear. freeze. Another re action is to yell would do? You may run away from the bear, or you may simply and wave your arms to appear big and scary. There are three ways humans react to danger: run away We may , too. fight, flee, or freeze. When we are anxious, we react in one of these ways go blank or avoid situations that make us anxious. s when our mind freeze, such as Or we may may fight, get angry and lash out at people. and we can’t think clearly. Or we Can you think of fight, flee, or freeze because of anxious feelings?” some ways you may How to explain “anxious arousal” to a teen: into a Sometimes when we sense something is dangerous or threatening, we automatically go ” . This can happen when there is real danger, but also when a “anxious arousal state called resentation in class, giving an oral p something simply feels dangerous, but really isn’t, such as , or...(give an example of something relevant to your child). Anxious arousal makes you feel jittery feeling can become on edge, and uncomfortable. It may also make it hard to think clearly . This overwhelming top doing things or going places that make them feel enough that anxious people s Do you think this is happening to you? anxious. A 4. Anxiety can become a problem danger. real in the absence of as if in danger when our body reacts ’s like the body’s smoke ala good analogy is that it rm. Anxiety Canada ©

3 3 How you can explain the “smoke alarm” response: “An alarm can help protect us when there is an actual fire, but sometimes a smoke alarm is too sensitive and goes off when there isn’t really a fire (e.g. burning toast in toaster). Like a smoke alarm, anxiety is helpful when it works right . But when it goes off when there is no real danger .” , then we may want to fix it More about How Anxiety “Works” three parts Explain to your child the : thoughts (what we say to ourselves ); physical feel ings of anxiety (how our body responds ); and behaviours (what we do or our actions ). A good way to describe the interconnection of these parts is to draw a triangle with arrows (see figure below). For example: Physical Feelings e.g. Tummy ache, head ache, heart racing Thoughts Behaviours e.g. “What if mom doesn’t come home?” e.g. Finding mom, staying home from school Step 3: Helping Your Child Recognize Anxiety For younger children, talk about how you will both be “det ectives”, and how you will help your child in an “investigation” to find out more about anxiety. experiences As detectives, find examples of how your child anxi ety in each of the three parts : physical symptoms, anxious thoughts, and avoidance behaviours. Being a Detective: Recognizing Physical Symptoms To help your child recognize physical symptoms, draw a sketch of a body and ask your child to identify where When I fe he or she feels anxiety in the body . Prompt your child , if necessary, with an example: “ el anxious, I get butterflies in my tummy, and I get a big lump in my throa t. W Have hat happens when you feel anxious?” on a large piece of paper (e.g. butcher’s paper) his or her body. You can also your child lie down and trace and fill out print Chester the Cat for young children, and Where’s Anxiety in my Body? for older children. of “typical” physical symptoms. Teens may rather just talk about it, or identify their own symptoms from a list If age ask your child to come up with a name for anxiety (e.g. Mr. Worry, Worry Monsters). -appropriate, your child’s anxiety with this new name , particularly in terms of “bossing back” anxiety (e.g. “ It’s Refer to just th e worry monster talking . I don’t have to listen! ”). Older children or teens may respond better to a music analogy, such as that the volume of their anxiety is “turned up” a bit louder than other kids . They learn to turn down the volume . simply need to adopt an observer role when dealing with anxiety , giving them a greater These strategies help your child sense of control . Being a Detective Recognizing Anxious Thoughts : Younger children may sometimes have difficulty identifying their thoughts, and especially anxious thoughts. For more information, see Healthy Thinking for Young Children. Older children and teens will likely be able to identify some of their anxious thoughts, and even challenge their unrealistic thoughts. For more information, see Realistic Thinking for Teens . Regardless of your child’s age, help your child understand that anxiety, and not actual real danger, is miss out on important opportunities and fun events. her to causing him or Anxiety Canada ©

4 4 Being a Detective: Recognizing Avoidance Ask your child to come up with as many answers as possible to the following: If you woke up tomorrow morning and all your anxiety had magically disappeared, what would you do? How would you act? How would your family know you weren’t anxious? ( Your teacher? your friends?) Finish the following sentences: My anxiety stops me from... When I am not anxious, I will be able to... Once your child through these three steps, and is able to understand and recognize anxiety, your child will has gone how to better prepared to move on to the next stage - learn ing be manage anxiety ! Anxiety Canada ©

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