Helping your anxious child

January 23, 2017 Benjamin M. Starnes, MD, FAAP


As a self-proclaimed worry wart, I have a special place in my heart for the anxious child. These days the world can be scary and difficult to explain – i.e. there’s lots to worry about! How can we help the child who seems to worry about anything and everything? 

We all worry

First, let’s put it into perspective for ourselves and our child. We can say: 

“Everyone worries. I worry, you worry, grandma worries, we all worry. Some people worry more than others. It’s how we handle the emotion that matters.” 

Acknowledge your child’s feelings, even say that you sometimes worry about the same thing, and try to categorize the worry as a big one or a little one. 

What would you do?

Next, come up with some solutions together. Start with what you might do in a similar situation: “When I worry about that, I do this.” 

Examples include: practicing a speaking part, or even suggesting to a younger child that you both “play it out.” Make up a pretend situation and try different solutions, some silly, some serious. If your child is anxious about school, offer to help study for a test.

Help others 

If the stress is coming from larger, world-scale events, suggest that you work together to find good things in your community:

• Are there people doing charity work for the victims of a disaster?
• Is there a place you can both volunteer? 
• Perhaps you might find someone the child could send a letter of encouragement or thanks to. I’ll bet there are a lot of soldiers and first responders who would love a letter of thanks from a child. 

Remind your child that together, you can get through anything. The key word here is together. Eliminating worry is not possible, nor is it practical. Worry happens. We are the adults in a child’s life and we worry. We must guide by example.

Blow your worries away

When there’s no easy solution, try a different approach. Keep it simple and offer a way to take a break from the worry. I like teaching children to “blow their worries away.” Every child knows how to blow bubbles, and they know that they can’t blow quickly or the bubble will pop. They have to take a deep breath, and blow long and slow. 

Buy your child some inexpensive bubbles and write, “Worry bubbles” on the bottle. Anytime they are feeling stressed, have them blow 10 long streams of bubbles. Count with them and have them wait until each set of bubbles hits the ground before blowing the next. 

Focus on the bubbles. Try to be silent and watch the bubbles fall. When your child is done, say confidently, “I feel better. Do you?”

We can help

There are times when a worry takes over and becomes so overwhelming that your child might need professional help. It’s always best to start with your primary care provider, who can help or connect you with the appropriate provider. I’ll let you in on a little secret – we worry too!

Call Swedish Pediatrics at 1-800-793-3474 to schedule an appointment with one of our providers.

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