When kids are anxious, it’s natural to want to help them feel better. But by trying to protect kids from the things that upset them, you can accidentally make anxiety worse. The best way to help kids overcome anxiety is to teach them to deal with anxiety as it comes up. With practice, they will be less anxious.
When a child gets upset in an uncomfortable situation and their parents take them out of the situation, they learn that getting upset is a good way to cope. Instead, it’s helpful for parents to let kids know that they’re going to be okay, even if they’re scared. You can’t promise your child that nothing bad will happen. But you can express confidence that they can face their fears and feel less afraid over time.
You can show your child empathy without agreeing with their fears. For example, you might say: “I know you’re scared to get this shot. It’s okay to be scared. You can get through this, and I’m going to help you.” It’s usually helpful to avoid leading questions (“Are you worried about the test tomorrow?”). Instead, ask open questions (“How do you feel about the test tomorrow?”). You can use your tone of voice and body language to show your child that you’re calm, which can help them stay calm too.
Parents can also help by keeping kids distracted before something that might be upsetting, like a doctor’s appointment. Sometimes it helps to talk with your child about what might happen if their fears came true. What would they do? Who would they ask for help? Having a plan can calm anxiety.
Finally, parents can model healthy ways of handling anxiety. Parents get anxious too, and that’s okay! The goal is to show your child that anxiety is normal and that it doesn’t have to be a big deal.