Carol the Coach: Anxiety and Your Child

Research studies show that about 8% of the population is affected by anxiety disorders. This can be exceptionally tough when you're watching your child suffer with panic attacks, anxiety, nervousness or worry. It can be heartbreaking to support your child as he feels he has no control over a feeling that either comes over him "in a moment's notice" or a feeling that seems to be part of his general operating system. As a parent it can leave you feeling anxious, and confused about how you can help your child. The good news is that anxiety is manageable and your child can be taught skills to help him "dial down" these seemingly uncontrollable emotions. If your child experiences a large degree of nervousness, worry, fear, or panic it is important for you to seek a specialist who can help him with anxiety reduction techniques.

There are two particular types of techniques that address anxiety. Children learn that they can either work on preventing the anxiety from occurring or focus on reducing it. In other words, anxiety management techniques teach children how to turn down the anxiety or prevent it.

Deep breathing with visualization can be very successful in treating anxiety. Asking kids to imagine breathing in a peaceful calming color and breathing out the color of stress can both prevent and reduce anxiety. When children do this before they go to bed at night, they feed their subconscious thoughts that increase a sense of control. When kids begin to feel a panic attack coming on they can use this technique to dial down the amount of anxiety therefore giving them a sense of mastery.

Having children "physicalize" their anxiety can also be helpful. Encouraging them to play a sport or participate in judo or other martial arts teaches children that they can channel their anxiety into sports and activities that will externalize many of the symptoms that feed into anxiety.

The good news is that children of all ages can learn these techniques. As a matter of fact the younger the child is, the more likely he will utilize his imagination which increases his ability to manage anxiety. When I worked at Riley Hospital for Children, I taught children self hypnosis. Kids are masters at going into altered states when they're playing, listening to music, gaming, coloring, or doing other art projects. Teaching them a few basic steps allows them to use deep breathing along with focusing and meditative techniques that teach them to center themselves which can aid in the reduction of anxiety.

Play therapy can be helpful when dealing with very small children. Teaching kids how to teach their dolls how to reduce anxiety often assisted in the child herself reducing her own anxiety.

Using art therapy was also a valuable tool. Small kids were often asked to color a picture of what their anxiety looked like and then together we create a second picture which reduced the intensity of the colors or we would make the size of the anxiety smaller which would teach the child that she can reduce the intensity, frequency or impact of the anxiety.

Medication may also be a strategy for children who suffer from the disorder, however most practitioners advocate that children see a therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy or anxiety before they are assessed for medication.

Your job as a parent is to empower your child to have all the tools they need to live the most normal life possible. There is help for your child to overcome anxiety!

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