Stressed out over seeing your child struggling with anxiety?  Want to help your child or teen feel better? Here are three powerful ways to lower your child's or teen's anxiety:

  • Stop thinking of your child as an "anxious child."  If you give a child or teen this label, he will live up to it. Instead, switch your pereception to "My child has a tendency to have anxiety and we are working on it."  This will help to keep your own anxiety down and will model to your child to follow your lead. 

  • Encourage your child to take deep breaths. Think about how it is impossible to be both worried and relaxed at the same time. Be sure to use diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) instead of shallow breaths. 

  • Listen for irrational self-talk (e.g., "My future is ruined", "I can never get anyone to like me", "No one ever takes me seriously", "I suck in everything I do", "Everyone in the school is going to talk about this all the time for the next ten years.").  For young children puppets and drawings may help in uncovering anxiety-related thoughts. Help your child or teen see that these types of irrational self-talk raise anxiety off the charts. Specifically, explain how these OVER-EXAGGERATIONS, OVER-ESTIMATIONS, AWFULIZING, CATASTROPHISIZING, lead to anxiety.  Obviously, adjust the level of explanation to the level of the student. E.g., for younger students use puppets, and drawings and even a half empty/half full glass so they can SEE how perception affects reality.

For persistent and more serious anxiety concerns, see a qualified health care professional.

Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over twenty-two years’ experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared twice on the Today Show, Court TV as an expert advisor, CBS eyewitness news Philadelphia, 10! Philadelphia—NBC and public radio. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (Perseus Books, 2006), 10 Days to Less Distracted Child (Perseus Books 2007), Liking the Child You Love (Perseus Books 2009) and Why Can’t You Read My Mind?(Perseus Books 2003).

You can follow him on twitter. 

Sources and further information:

The chapter Understanding Anxiety from The Feeling Good Handbook (David Burns)

Anxiety Disorders in Children and Teens (John March)

American Psychological Association (www.apa.org)

Treatments That Work With Children (Chrisopherson & Mortweet, 2001)

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