If your child is feeling anxious, like most other aspects of mental health, there are skills that can be learned to help manage these feelings and prevent them from interfering with life. Many of these skills are things we should learn to also manage daily life stressors. In general, the goal is not to eliminate anxiety altogether, but to help kids learn to manage their experience and get through a difficult situation or to see things in a more balanced way.

Here are seven suggestions for parents and caregivers to help kids manage anxiety:

  1. Be accepting of a child's concerns, but try to gently correct misinformation about a situation and give them encouragement. Help them do something in small steps until they are less nervous about it.
  2. Don't avoid all things that cause a child anxiety. The more we avoid typical (safe) activities that cause anxiety, the more kids learn avoidance is a good strategy. Instead of learning to manage difficult situations, kids will start demanding to avoid more and more situations, and this can become their main strategy.
  3. Be realistic, and don't make promises. You can't promise your child will never be injured riding a bike, or they will never fail a test, or there will never be an embarrassing social situation. Adults can express confidence they'll be able to help their child through any challenges that come along, and that they’ll feel less nervous the more they practice something new. It can be helpful to use other examples of things your child has mastered in the past.
  4. Be accepting of their feelings. Even if it seems your child’s anxiety is misplaced, avoid making them feel bad for being anxious, but acknowledge their feelings and talk about how you are going to help them: “I can tell you’re feeling nervous about trying to ride your bike, but I'm going to be there next to you to help you learn how to do it.”
  5. Teach them to evaluate the evidence. The older children get, the more they become able to think through complex situations. Teach them to compare the evidence for and against their anxious thoughts. Many times, anxious thoughts get in the way of thinking through the reality of a situation.
  6. Don't lead them to anxiety. Sometimes, well-intentioned adults ask questions or make statements such as “Are you worried about passing that test today?” or “Are you scared of going to the doctor today?” or “You must be really worried about that performance coming up.” Instead, try asking more neutral questions like, “Are you feeling ready for your test?” or “How are you feeling about the performance later this week?” If they express some worry after that, offer to help them problem-solve.
  7. Model healthy ways to manage anxiety. When adults provide good modeling of ways to manage anxiety, it shows kids they can do it too. Tell the kids around you about the times you feel nervous and how you are getting through it.

Activities for Anxiety to Help Kids

On Our Sleeves experts have developed three activities you and your child can do to ease their anxiety and help them express how they are feeling.

  1. My Anxiety Game Plan: Together you can create a game plan to write down how kids recognize, deal with and challenge anxiety.
  2. Thought Challenge Chart: A chart to track negative thoughts and difficult emotions that might come up after a variety of situations.
  3. Anxiety in My Body: This outline of the human body helps kids draw what they are feeling inside.