As adults, we know how debilitating anxiety, fear, and worry can be. And as all of us experience it on different levels, it’s a very real part of being human. That’s why, as parents, one of the most important skills we can teach our children, is to know what to do when they feel anxious.
The more you know about your child’s anxiety, the better equipped you will be to help them learn proper coping skills when they face those moments of fear and worry. By understanding the signs of anxiety, what’s causing it, and teaching your children helpful coping skills, you can better prepare them for an emotionally and mentally healthy childhood.
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How to Help Your Child With Anxiety and Fear
Parenting is all about reading the signs your child throws at you on a daily basis. When we can become discerners and observers of our child’s needs, instead of controllers or pushers, they will feel safe to be exactly who they were meant to be.Hillary Gruener – Author of Word from the Bird
I’ll never forget the moment. We had just moved abroad to Germany, and adjusting to the culture was a lot more than I had anticipated. My son, who was 5 at the time, seemed fine, though. He would attend his Kindergarten classes daily where he began to learn German and was taught things like knitting, cooking, cutting vegetables, and washing dishes. One of the most fabulous things about German Kindergarten is that they actually teach kids skills they will need for life, and do a lot of it in nature. He loved it. At least, so I thought.
One afternoon after we walked home together from his school, he sat down on his bed and said, “Mom. I’m so tired in my head. When people talk to me in German and I don’t know what they are saying, it makes me feel really sad.” He started to break down. He went on to tell me how much he missed America and being able to talk to people normally. He expressed how much he missed the people we left behind. How much he didn’t want to be there.
Here I thought I was the one who was falling apart, and here was my 5yo, attempting to deal with BIG emotions at the hand of a monumental event that was shaking all he knew and felt comfortable with. We talked. We cried. A lot. We reminisced about the life we had chosen to leave behind. And that was that. We left the door open for continued conversation about hardships, how to overcome them, and that they are normal in life.
It’s important that we don’t assume our kids are fine just because they aren’t verbalizing anything. It’s important we ask questions, allow them to feel, and allow them to express their hearts. Sometimes, we shouldn’t settle for, “I’m fine” after we’ve asked them how they are. Instead, we should ask questions that did a little deeper.
Anxiety and worry in children translate differently than it does in adults, and sometimes it takes us remembering our childhood and empathizing with how a child might process something as opposed to an adult.
While adults have proper coping skills they’ve learned throughout their life to better handle their anxiety (and even then, adults sometimes can’t), children aren’t quite sure what to do with how they feel.
Check out Emotionally Healthy Children Have Parents Who Refuse to let Them do These 8 Things to gain more understanding about your child’s emotional needs.
Most of the time, parents aren’t aware that their kids are emotionally reaching out.
How and why parents should care about their child’s anxiety
From infancy to adolescence, your kids will go through a range of outward expressions of inner emotions. It’s our job as their parents to help them identify their feelings and navigate through them. Beautiful things happen when we can walk alongside our children as a non-judgemental and safe place, including helping them with their anxiety.
It’s with patience and understanding we can better meet them where they’re at, instead of continually expecting them to perform the way we think they should. When we can do this, our livelihood as individuals will also improve, as we benefit from our child leaning on us for understanding and encouragement–not fighting us on everything.
Listen MORE than you speak
Kids go to school every day and are expected to sit in class and listen intently to their teacher for hours. Then, they go home and are expected to listen to their parents. Once again, on Sunday, or even Wednesday evening youth group, kids are again expected to listen to their pastors or mentors. But who is listening to them?
In parenting, there is a time to be still and listen, and time to give your input. Be attentive to when and how this is done. So many times I’ve failed my son in this. When he has shared something that mustered up a lot of courage, I run my mouth and overshare my advice causing him to shut down and not want to talk anymore.
So when I fail, I apologize. I’m learning. We all are. It’s more about having a daily posture of humility — looking within to make sure my child’s misbehavior isn’t a reflection of something I need to change in my parenting.
How technology affects your child’s anxiety
In today’s culture, another important element we have to consider when it comes to our child’s mental health is technology. Recent studies continue to uncover the negative impacts technology and social media have on kids when they are excessive and unmonitored.
That’s why I’ve partnered with Bark – an integrative software designed to help keep kids safe online and in real life. Here is a short video to explain what it does, and how it works. If you use code WORDBIRD at checkout, you can get an extra 1 month free trial on top of the initial 7-day free trial! That gives you PLENTY of time to try it out for yourself and see if it makes sense for your family.
This is a great way to implement something that can put your mind at ease for what your kids are watching, and for how long they are watching it.
With that being said, here is a list to better understand how anxiety in your child affects them, and what you can do to help.
What are the causes, signs, and symptoms of children with anxiety?
Infancy to Toddlerhood – Worry in Children Ages 0-3
A baby cries because it needs food, sleep, a diaper change, etc. But did you also know it has NO idea that when you leave a room, you’ll be returning? So for them, the knowledge of the safest thing they know being removed from their smell and sight vicinity is terrifying.
Swaddling babies isn’t just something we do to keep babies from scratching themselves, but it’s also to make them feel like they are still in the safety of their mother’s womb.
As parents, it then becomes our job to look for signs and understand what soothes our babies–do our best to attend to their needs and make them feel as safe and happy as possible.
When babies turn into toddlers, their anxiety shifts as they begin to understand things differently. They start to realize that their voice becomes heard.
Depending on the child, this can be the time where their fears of the unknown translate to tantrums. What most parents don’t realize is that it’s completely normal. It’s an age where they can’t quite communicate their frustrations or worries with words, and throwing a fit is one of the only responses they know.
Read more about raising a strong-willed child here.
What are some things I can do to help my toddler when feeling anxious?
Toddlerhood is an age where a child can begin to learn right behaviors instead of wrong.
By explaining things before they happen, especially if it’s something they might not like, it can ease the transition and help them better understand a situation. This will result in less anxiety for the toddler.
As trust continues to form between parent and child, they can begin to understand that throwing a fit won’t give them what they want, as long as you are firm in not giving them what they want, when they want it.
It’s also helpful when you can give your toddler a choice. Let’s say you want them to drink some water, but their response is usually difficult when you order them to do so.
Instead of giving a command, you can word it like this.
“Would you like a glass of water with or WITHOUT ice?”
This leaves them with a choice but also implies they need to do what you asked of them.
Every child is different, so there is no one fix solution for keeping your child from throwing fits or feeling anxious. Tantrums shouldn’t be looked at as something that needs to be fixed. Try and recognize it as something that is a part of your child’s learning how to communicate. It’s your job to show them how.
Do your best to balance discipline with understanding.
By doing this, you will give your child the upper hand in better understanding themselves when they get anxious, because you as their parent will first be understanding of who they are.
Preschool and Kindergarten – Anxiety in Children Ages 3-5
Preschool through Kindergarten is the age when a child begins to understand that there are scary and frightening things in this world, whether that’s a monster under their bed, or their pet dying.
They begin to recognize their feelings and emotions and can somewhat understand them, but don’t quite have the skills to know what to do with them.
How can I help my Kindergartener or Preschooler with anxiety?
This time is crucial for parents to come alongside and explain EVERYTHING. You can never explain too much to a preschooler.
They will bombard you with questions and talk your ear off about all they are learning in the world. It’s a sweet time that a child begins to relate to their parents. A little girl will begin to want to dress like her mommy, or a boy will want to be his dad when he grows up.
At this time, we have to assure them, perhaps 30 times over, that there is no monster under the bed. We have to tell them the truth, but also be careful with the details. And most importantly, we have to monitor what they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears.
Protecting your child’s innocence at this age is SO crucial to the worries and fears that come and take place in their minds. If you’re letting them watch movies above their maturity level, of course, they are going to have nightmares, which will in turn cause anxiety in children.
A helpful tool for your child in this age range is journaling. That’s why we’ve created this incredible Kid’s Printable Journal that encourages them to express their feeling whether through writing or coloring, encourage gratitude, and spark creativity.
Grade School – Anxiety in Kids Ages 6-11
When my son turned 6, I saw an almost immediate shift in his fears and anxiety.
He went from being scared of the dark to noticing that kids are capable of rejecting him as a friend.
I’m sure a lot of this had to do with us moving to Germany at the time, but he also began to worry about the fact that he was American, and the rest of the school wasn’t.
He also began to understand that we as his parents aren’t invincible, and there was a genuine fear that he could lose us.
At this age, a parent will begin to notice more disrespect as a child becomes more independent.
Their hormones are changing, their brains are forming, and all the while, they are taking in and realizing that this world is not so forgiving after all. It’s a hard place to be that it can very easily cause anxious thoughts.
During the grade school years, you will begin to notice a shift in anxiety that can sometimes transpire to disrespect.
It’s essential, in this time, to show your child an immense amount of respect, even if you don’t feel like they are respecting you–teaching them respect has more to do with how you show it to them.
Then, when they hit their tween years, they will feel heard, as your family’s environment will be of mutual respect and understanding for one another.
How can I help my grade school child with anxiety?
As your children begin to understand the world and its darkness, the best thing you can do is to be their safe space. Accept them for the awkward and wonderful little creatures they are. And when they fail, be gracious.
You can also teach them coping skills like deep breathing, or focusing their minds on something positive when they feel anxious. Have them try the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 method.
You can also have them start journaling. It’s an amazing way for them to express how they feel, but not feel pressured to talk about it right away.
Another great tool you can use as a parent is to show them that with hard work, they CAN overcome their difficulties or feelings of anxiety. This can best be shown by teaching them to follow through and not give up, and if they fail, it’s OKAY.
Here is a great tool for teaching your children discipline and following through on certain tasks.
Most importantly, it’s our job as the parent to accept our kids for who they are, mistakes, and all. It’s okay that they aren’t perfect, don’t have straight A’s, or aren’t the captain of the basketball team. What will matter most and stand the test of time in your relationship with them is to simply be there for them.
Be the non-judgemental space they go to when things get tough. Identify WITH them, and try and remember what it’s like to be that age.
Other posts that might relate:
***Check out this INCREDIBLE family adventure book, called THE ADVENTURE CHALLENGE, that will get your family thinking outside the box and doing things to create memories that last forever. The best part is, it’s a journaling book so you can document, clip pictures, and save your memories for years to come! Use the code BIRD at checkout and get 10% off your order.
Tweens and Teens - Anxiety in Children Ages 12-19
This is the age when a child’s juvenile fears turn into full-blown anxiety. When an adult has anxiety, they have most likely acquired certain coping skills throughout their life.
But tweens and teens aren't quite sure what to do when the pressures of adolescence come —which it will.
Things like grades or being on a sports team might be something that a child’s parent desires them to excel in. But what they don’t realize, is that their kid's desire to please them, will most times outweigh their desire to take care of their own mental and emotional well-being.
Kids will sometimes seek to please the parent, instead of learning their own boundaries, limits, and capabilities.
So along with the extreme peer pressure placed on them at school by their friends, as well as their teachers, they have an added element of pressure brought on by you, the parent.
Check out - Dear son, you are more than your good grades.
Tweens, Teens, and Screens
Remember when I mentioned previously in this post about the importance of monitoring screen time? Well, this is the age where it becomes the most crucial. If you don't believe me on how negatively social media and unlimited screen use can affect a young mind, then check out these stats.
Anxiety is an outward expression of inward turmoil. Social media can be the leading cause of a tween or teen's inner turmoil. How? Cyberbullying. But not just that.
Within a child's smartphone or tablet, they can create for themselves an alternate reality. Within this world, the number of likes, comments, or views they get can begin to define them. It might even begin to make them have anxiety about who their friends are, why they didn't like their post, etc.
If they don't get a lot of likes on a certain picture or video, they might even change things up a bit to get more action. With the click of a button they can make their skin clearer, waist skinnier, teeth whiter, you name it.
What kind of message is this sending to our kids?
I know I've talked a lot about Bark, but installing a parental control software on your child's device truly is the most caring thing you can do for their mental and emotional health.
Learn all about it in my review of the app here.
How to help your teenager cope with anxiety
First things first--stop expecting your teen to be perfect at everything. Grace should always outweigh expectations if you want them to feel safe to be who they are, as well as include you in on their life's journey.
By doing this, it shows them that it’s not their job to make everyone happy because you're not expecting them to make YOU happy.
Teach them to understand their limits and have boundaries—but also encourage them to not stop in the face of failure. It’s all about balance.
Another thing your tween or teen still desperately needs from you is to simply hear why and how you are proud of them—and they need to hear it OFTEN.
Even though your child may give you blank stares or rolling eyes in response to your words of affirmation, they still need to hear from you that they are worth something. And that shouldn’t stop after they graduate.
I’m a grown-up, but I still need to hear that my parents are proud of me.
Last but not least, offer your help and advice, but don't force it.
Parenting is all about reading the signs your child throws at you on a daily basis. When we can become discerners and observers of our children, instead of controllers or pushers, then our kids will feel safe to be exactly who God intended them to be.
Parents often overlook anxiety in their children, sometimes due to their own problems they face in life.
But the relationship between a parent and child will always include a teacher/student scenario when it comes to their wavering emotions and feelings. Whether it’s a positive or negative influence—whichever direction that goes is entirely up to you.
When you can better understand your child’s feelings and why they have them, you can better prepare them for a mentally and emotionally healthy lifestyle, while bridging the emotional gap in your family.
Also check out - 5 Questions to Help Parents Emotionally Bond With Their Teen
Positive parenting tools for every parent
Screen Time Protection and Teaching Moderation
Check out the healthy kid's phone that will keep your kids safer.
I've recently partnered with Bark, a software to supervise, manage, and protect your child's device use on the go. Use the code WORDBIRD at checkout to get an additional 1-month free trial after your first initial 7-day trial!
Screen Time Checklist Printable for Kids - FREE if you sign up for our weekly newsletter. Just fill out your info below.
Book List for Kids and Parents
Check out my recommended books for parenting.
Book list to teach kids about racial diversity.
Journaling for Kids
When a child is old enough to start drawing, coloring, or writing, journaling is an incredible way to help your kids better express themselves in a free and comfortable way. Check out our Kid's Printable Journals -- created specifically to help children better express their feelings, encourage gratitude, and spark the imagination.
Chores for Kids
Magnetized Chalk Chart for Fridge
Implementing chores and structure in your child's daily life is a VERY helpful tool to teach them follow through, discipline, and respect. We use this chore chart in our family to help our kids keep track of their own progress, and keep you from having to constantly remind them of their daily tasks.
If you're looking for something a bit more simple, this is also a good option.
Chore Chart Printable - Get it NOW from the convenience of your own printer
If you're looking for something you can print out immediately and start implementing chores in your home today, check out this CHORE CHART PRINTABLE. With a Mandalorian theme, it makes for a lighthearted and fun way to encourage kids to do their daily and weekly "missions."
Emotional Connectivity with Your Kids
Connecting on a deeper level emotionally with your child is CRUCIAL, and sometimes more difficult. We play THIS GAME often in our family to create a safe space for our kids to feel free to share their questions and emotions, all without judgment.
We even offer an "Exemption Time" for the duration of this game, where anything he tells us is off the table for consequences.
Check out these other posts on emotional connectivity on the blog!
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