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Loving & Caring for Children When They Are Anxious

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

The word anxiety is sometimes overused to describe normal feelings of stress or extreme worry. All children and adults go through times in their lives when they become overwhelmed or stressed about a situation. This is typical and should be considered normal as children grow and develop. However, when a child feels anxiety that lasts a long time and those feelings or emotions begin to disrupt their daily routine, preventing them from going to school or seeing friends; this is when we as adults should seek outside help and guidance. Prolonged anxious feelings may be a red flag for deeper concerns or perhaps even an anxiety disorder. Types of anxiety disorders children can experience include Social Anxiety Disorder, Separation Anxiety, Selective Mutism, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Specific Panic Disorder.

Helping and guiding children who have an anxiety disorder can sometimes be a struggle. Oftentimes their big emotions, exhaustion, or negative attitude are hard to be around. They tend to have overwhelming emotions that are difficult to understand. It is helpful for the child and ourselves if we stay away from trying to tell them how they “should” feel. We should resist the urge to “fix” their feelings or tell them how to cope. It is much more beneficial to simply try and care, or help them understand or interpret their own emotions. There are a variety of techniques that we can follow as parents and caregivers to help children manage and cope with their own emotions and feelings.

  1. According to the Child Mind Institute, children should learn 5 skills related to managing their own emotions and feelings:

  1. How to understand their feelings

  2. Relaxation techniques

  3. How to understand their thoughts

  4. How to manage intense emotions

  5. Mindfulness

2. Try to create an environment where your child feels safe expressing their worries without judgment or criticism. Refrain from saying things like, “You need to drop it and move on, calm down, that’s silly, you’re fine let it go …”. Encourage open communication and active listening.

3. Use questions to help them understand and process their thoughts. Questions like is this thought helpful or is thought holding me back? Who might be able to help me with this problem? Where could I access information that could help me?

4. Establish a routine. A structured routine can provide security and predictability which will help minimize anxious feelings.

5. Encourage physical activity. Minimize or eliminate screen time. Fresh air and movement are extremely necessary for brain development and overall good health.

6. Provide reassurance to your child that they are safe and supported.

7. Model healthy coping strategies.

8. Seek professional help if needed. If your child’s anxiety persists or significantly affects their daily life, consider seeking professional help from a mental health professional specializing in child psychology.

Remember that every child is unique, and it's important to tailor your approach based on their individual needs and preferences. Patience, understanding, empathy, and unconditional support are key in helping children manage anxiety effectively.

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