Parenting Strategies For Preventing Anxiety In Children

Parenting Strategies For Preventing Anxiety In Children
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 28 July, 2022

Being a mother or a father is not a simple task. We did not come to this world with a manual explaining how we can educate our happy children so that they will become mature adults tomorrow, capable of achieving their dreams, whatever those may be.

We could say that one of the greatest problems that parents face today is anxiety in the smallest of children. Nervous behaviors, their problems sleeping, their almost irrational fears… What causes all of this?

Being a mother or a father is an adventure from which we can learn every day and which requires not only love, but also courage and many emotional resources. Anxiety in children is a challenge that we can treat by “reorienting” some of our upbringing techniques.

If today you feel that one of your children is showing signs of anxious behavior, the first thing to remember is to avoid correcting the child through the use of punishments or negative words. Far from helping, this will further increase the tension they feel.

Above all else, you have to remember that it is not a matter of being the best the best mother or father in the world. Rather, it is a matter of simply always being there. It is about being an example, a model in which our children can find support and unconditional love.

In our article today, we want to show you how to manage anxiety in children.

Anxiety in children: Where does it come from?

Family with Dog

It is very possible that on more than one occasion, you have heard people say that “anxious children are the reflection of parents with anxiety.” That being said, the reason our children suffer from anxiety can often go a bit beyond that.

Anxiety is a response to a series of circumstances that are seen as threatening. It can develop into fears and inability to resolve daily problems. Anxiety during childhood can make it more difficult for children to develop emotionally.

We are sure that these kinds of sensations and emotions are familiar to you. We could say that we all know what anxiety is, we experience it at work, in our relationships… That said, though, why do children suffer from it?

  • According to a study published in “The American Journal of Psychiatry,” children with parents who showed signs of anxious behavior had a higher probability of developing the same problem.
  • At some point in their childhood, children can develop some kind of fear. Fear of being alone, of being abandoned… To such a degree that any sort of separation, like simply leaving them at school, causes them stress. We have to understand where these fears come from.
  • There are experiences that very small children do not manage to understand or that they process improperly. The loss of a family member like a grandparent, for example, can awaken in them certain irrational thoughts that can turn into an anxiety disorder.

The emotional, individual universe of a child is as complex as it is sensitive. As parents, we cannot enter into all of these dimensions; we cannot make life as easy for them as we would like.

Keeping this in mind, the most important thing is to be attentive, to keep a close eye on them, to cuddle them, care for them, talk to them, and listen to them. Anxiety in children is a symptom of something that we have to understand and deal with.

How to prevent and treat anxiety in children

Kids on Balloon Hammock

Some suitable strategies and upbringing techniques based on Emotional Intelligence can surely help us when it comes to preventing and treating anxiety in children.

When it comes to educating them, we have to be aware of ourselves. Your words educate; your gestures, your reactions, and even the tone of your voice are instruments that children integrate, process, and feel. Act level-headedly and consistently; forming happy people is also educating their emotions.

According to the previously cited study from “The American Journal of Psychiatry” directed by psychiatrist Golda Ginsburg, sometimes it is enough if one of the parents presents anxious behaviors in front of children, especially those between the ages of 6 and 13 years old, for children to develop anxiety disorders.

Furthermore, the same author also explains that there is not one single cause for these problems. In reality, it is a combination composed on the one hand of genetics and on the other hand of many environmental factors.

If we or our partners suffer from an anxiety disorder, the most suitable thing would doubtlessly be to treat the problem and be aware of it so that our upbringing techniques are not based on these behaviors that may sometimes show themselves without our realizing it.

Now let us see what strategies would be suitable for preventing and dealing with anxiety in our little ones:

1. Children have to face their fears

Maybe you are afraid that something could happen to your children. Overprotection creates a great deal of anxiety in our children, whether we mean it to or not. We have to allow them to face their fears.

Fear of starting at a school where they do not know anybody, fear of not being a good member of their soccer team, fear of asking questions in class, fear of not seeing you for two days because they are taking a class trip…

We have to allow them to develop their own techniques for facing these things. When they do it and resolve their fears, they will feel proud of themselves.

2. Use positive messages

Congratulate your children for everything they do well, and most importantly, avoid punishing or critiquing them when they do something incorrectly.

Punishments, raising your voice, or disparaging words like “you’re so clumsy” create a high level of anxiety in children. Negative messages create evasive behaviors, so the best thing is to motivate them, cheer them on, and support them.

Girl in Tree

3. Understand what is important to your child

Sometimes we brush off the things that are important for them and that we rarely see because we do not have enough time.

If your child values your saying that their drawing is beautiful or that they got a good grade in class, or that they like this animal in particular, pay attention to them, always listen to them. Seeing that we do not value them creates uncertainty in them, and “not knowing” creates anxiety.

4. Talk about things that scare them

Find out what scares them, as insignificant as it may be. Are they afraid of the dark? Do they not want to go to school alone? Are they afraid of failing a test?

Talk openly to your children about all of their fears and do it with an understanding and attentive attitude. Afterwards, lay out a positive solution full of encouragement where you remind them that they can do anything and that they can always count on you for support.

Remind them that the best warriors are not the ones who always succeed, but rather the ones who are capable of overcoming their fears and growing through those daily victories.

Image courtesy of Jimmy Yoon, Claudia Tremblay

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.