Nearly all children feel anxious at times, whether it’s imagining a monster under the bed, worrying about the first day of school, or feeling uneasy about a sleepover. If we try to convince a fearful child that she shouldn’t be afraid by saying things like, “Don’t be silly! There’s nothing to be afraid of!”, we may unintentionally send her further down a spiral of fear, even if she tries to pretend she isn’t scared.
Instead of trying to talk your child out of his or her fears, try these tips:
1. Where in your body do you feel afraid? Shift your child’s attention from his head (where swirling thoughts often escalate worries) to his body so he can feel more grounded. You may also try asking, “What part of your body feels safe and calm?” A change in focus from worrisome thoughts to the heft and weight of the physical world can calm a jittery child.
2. “Thank you for telling me. I sometimes get anxious, too. Even though it passes, I know it’s no fun.” It is important to empower children to deal with the inevitable fears that come with living in a complicated world. Acknowledge that fear and worry are emotions that come and go for you, too– like waves on a beach. Encourage her use the tips mentioned above so she can learn to ride the waves of scary feelings without them sending her for a tumble.
3. “Can you slowly, slowly blow out my finger-candle?” Calm, gentle breathing settles an agitated nervous system more quickly than a barrage of words intended to dismiss a child’s fears. Invite your worried child to breathe slowly through his nose and slowly blow on your finger through pursed lips. Let him know that if he blows too hard, the “candle” won’t go out, but if he exhales very slowly and gently, your finger/ candle will “extinguish.” This can help a nervous child relax.
We all experience worries and fears. Hopefully, these tips will give you some ideas for what to do the next time your youngster says words familiar to us all: “I’m scared.”
Whether your child has periodic anxiety, or it seems chronic, you can get more support from our Master Class, Helping Anxious Children Thrive.