6 Ways To Help A Child Deal With Anxiety
Feeling afraid is a normal part of a child’s emotional development. Have you ever met a child that hasn’t been afraid of the dark at some point? Or maybe a kid that has to be peeled off their parent at pre-school drop-off? They are afraid to separate from their parents, their primary source of comfort. As adults we know anxiety does not come from God. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “ For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” We know we can fight fear through prayer, and trust that the Prince of Peace is in control of our lives. Even though we know monsters don’t live in the closet, and certainly don’t come out in the dark, our children don’t realize that. Their fear feels very real to them.
As parents, it is our job to comfort an anxious child and also push them towards Christ so they can lean on Him as a way to cope.
Helping My Son Overcome Anxiety
My eldest son had a bout of extreme anxiety this year and we had to really work with him to help him renew and retrain his brain from a fearful place to a peaceful place. It was not easy, and it was extremely painful to see our child suffer mentally, but thank God he is in a much better place!
Here are some of the things we did to guide him from fear to freedom:
Any time I thought of him, I prayed for him. And when he was home from school I prayed with him. I showed him Bible verses about peace and God instructing us not to be afraid. When he was sleeping, I would go into his room and I would pray and declare freedom from fear over him. I would command anything that wasn’t from God to leave his little mind. Before school, we would blast praise music and “soak” in God’s glory. I even guided him through the salvation prayer so He could know Jesus was living in his heart and he could always call on Him.
2) Gently Pushed Him To Face Fears
Exposing kids to their fears in a slow, gentle manner will help their brains realize that their threat isn’t real. I find role-playing really helps in this situation. If the child has separation anxiety you can walk them through everything that is going to happen before school, at drop-off, during school, and when you’ll pick them up. Maybe remind them the last thing they will do at school before it’s time to go home. Then they will know they are close to being done.
When my son was in the throes of his anxiety, the school nurse would let him call me to hear my voice. I would remind him that I love him, God loves him, and he is safe in school. Something I would never do was pick him up early or let him stay home due to fear. I knew he had to be exposed to school and experience the positive aspects of school instead of hiding from his fear at home.
3) Formed An Anxiety Support Team
By telling other family members, friends, and school faculty about your child’s anxiety, it will create a safe community for him to feel loved and protected instead of ashamed by his fears. My son’s principal and teacher were such a blessing in supporting him at school when we couldn’t be there. We met with them often about his progress, and discussed things that worked or didn’t work. And we were in constant communication about how he was doing and what his current needs were. The would try anything we were trying at home and not only did it help him feel supported, but we felt supported too.
4) Got A Worry Journal
This worry book was a huge tool in helping my son identify his feelings of anxiety and also normalize them. He realized he wasn’t alone and that there were tools to help him cope and succeed. We would do it together and I would even send it to school for him to do with his nurse if he was having a hard time.
5) Scheduled Worry Time
This was the most instrumental piece in rewiring and renewing his mind and finally pulling him to freedom. He would often come to me with a thought that had him worrying. But instead of reassuring him (which would teach him that he could always entertain his worrying because he was always reassured), I told him we could only discuss worries during our designated worry time. He would write his worry down and set it in a worry box for later. Then we set aside 15 minutes once or twice a day to discuss his worries then. Doing this trained his brain into realizing that a thought is just a thought and thoughts are not emergencies that needed to be addressed at that very second. It allowed him to realize his fears didn’t hold as much weight as he thought they did. We got his teacher to also do worry time at school and it really helped him over the hump and out of fear.
6) Counseling / Therapy For Anxiety
Remember, there is no shame in getting professional help. Your brain is an organ, just like your heart or liver are organs. Sometimes the brain needs a little extra attention or even medication to get back to functioning properly. In fact, I have my Master’s in Social Work and used to be a therapist, but still needed someone else, more properly trained in this area to help my child develop techniques to cope with and overcome anxiety. It is so great to start their journey to emotional and mental well-being at a young age!
Don’t forget love, empathy, grace, faith, and patience will help you and your child get over this mountain. You will all be stronger on the other side!