Anxiety, 3 Things Not to Say or Do
Before Covid-19, anxiety was on the rise, however, the pandemic has made for a significant increase. Currently, one in four children suffer from anxiety disorder. Of course, fear and worry have always been a normal part of childhood. It is a rare child that doesn’t at some point have a fear of monsters or the dark. However, these typical fears are often ones that children outgrow without much in the way of adult intervention. The problem today is that for many children, worry and anxiety have become a ever present part of life.
What should you say or do if you have an anxious child or student in your life? Let’s start with what not to say or do. Here are three things that are not helpful:
- “What is there to be anxious about anyway? You are just being silly.“–While the things that make children anxious may seem small and insignificant to adults, they loom large in the world of a child. Imagine that you shared with a friend something that had you quite worried and their response was, “I don’t know what you are so worried about… you are being ridiculous!” Would that calm you down and alleviate your fear? Or would you just decide not to share how you really felt with that person again? Children will respond with the same reaction.
- “I‘ll take care of everything… don’t worry!”– While this may seem helpful, there is a hidden message here which is that the child isn’t capable of taking care of the situation and as the adult, you will handle everything. It is better to help a child see what they have control of and how they can make a difference. This helps them develop problem solving skills and teaches them that they are capable of overcoming challenges
- Ignore it or say nothing. If you say nothing, the child may interpret this in any number of ways, but they certainly will feel isolated and alone without your support.
So what should you say to help a child who is anxious and worried? The main thing is to let them know you are present and hear their very real concerns. Here is what you might say:
- “I don’t know what you are going through but it looks like you are working really hard and I’m proud of your effort.” Kids need to hear that they are capable even if they haven’t solved the problem…yet. Acknowledging their struggle and effort is key.
- “Thank you for sharing. I didn’t know how difficult this was for you.” Again, as the adult you want to recognize and validate the child’s feeling while acknowledging that coping with the situation will be a process that takes some work.
- “You don’t have to share but I want you to know that I’m here to listen and I care about you.”--When you know something is going on but the child is resistant to talking, you can acknowledge what you see and off support when they are ready.
Once a child shares their concerns and you have listened with empathy, what next? I think its a good idea to allow the child to maintain control by asking questions that keep them in the driver’s seat. For instance: How could you solve the problem? What would be the best outcome? How could you make that happen? What would make a difference? What if its possible….? Lead them through a problem solving brainstorm session to determine what steps they might take. Have them consider it an experiment in what works and what doesn’t. Then, check back with them after they put some of their ideas to work. Help them understand that challenging anxiety and worry, just like overcoming any problem, is a process but you are available to help them on the journey.