Dr. Gellner: Every year, it seems more and more children are coming in to see me and other pediatricians because of anxiety issues. And the kids are getting younger and younger. So what do you do if you have an anxious child? I'll give you some tips on today's Scope. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.
Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering "The Healthy Kid Zone" with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.
Dr. Gellner: A lot of parents have concerns that their child is developing anxiety. Their child will stress over everything and no matter what they say, nothing seems to be able to calm their child down. Some anxiety is okay. We all have fears. But when this anxiety starts causing a lot of problems, that's when they should come to us.
Some parents want anxiety medications for their children. Others do not. Medications really should be a last resort, as many are not really safe in young children, often not approved use until age 12. And like any medications, they come with their own set of side effects.
So how can you help your anxious child before things get out of hand? There are some things you can try before resorting to medication. I'm going to give you some suggestions that could help change your child's fear-based thinking on both the conscious and subconscious level.
First, let your child know it's okay to feel afraid at times. But don't act too worried. Anxiety gets worse if your child feels anxious about being anxious. Remind your child how strong they are. This will help them believe in themselves. Explain that their anxiety is their body's automatic response to fear because their body thinks they're in danger. Sometimes the body gets tricked and it thinks it's in danger when it really isn't in danger. And that's just the brain's way of trying to protect them.
Have your child close their eyes, focus in the moment. Have them tell you what they're hearing or smelling and pay attention to their breathing. Tell them slow, deep breaths remind the brain that they are safe.
Give them a pillow or stuffed animal or even a box of tissues and tell them to grab it and throw it as far as they can. This can help release the high energy they have. Teach your child that panic attacks are temporary and they have the skills to make it through them.
Remember, if you make a big deal about it, this will make it bigger for them and it only serves to increase the anxiety. Figure out what your child is really afraid or anxious about. Once you understand this, you will understand what they need to help feel better. You will be able to better explain the difference between fears that help and keep us safe and fears that hurt and only cause more anxiety.
Teach your child to ask, "Will worrying about this do any good?" If the answer is no, then it's a fear that hurts. Finally, teach your child relaxation and self-calming skills. I call this their toolbox for when they get anxious. Once they learn how to calm down their fears, remind them that they can do anything.
If your child's anxiety is still keeping them from enjoying the things that children should enjoy, talk to your pediatrician about helping to find a good therapist. By coming to a pediatrician, we can help with figuring out some things to help your child initially. But if things are too complicated, we can find exactly who you need to see and get you a referral to a mental health specialist that will work with your child and do exactly what your child needs.
Tell your child that this is someone that they can talk to that will help with their feelings. And remind your child every day, "You can do this." Empowering them to be in charge of their feelings will give them the courage they need to face their fears.
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