Helping Kids Understand Anxiety: A Kid-Friendly Look at the Five Ws of Anxiety

Posted on: 21 July 2015

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When kids suffer from anxiety, it can be hard to watch, and it can be hard to know what to do. In many cases, just listening to your kid, not minimising his or her fears and being there can help a lot. It can also help to explain anxiety to your kid.

Here's a look at the who, what, when, where and why of it all in language a kid can understand:

1. Who has anxiety?

It can help anyone in almost any situation to know they are not alone. Let your child know that other people experience anxiety. It can even help to share a few of your own experiences and tips for survival.

2. What is anxiety?

Help your child define anxiety — simply, it is feelings of fear and nervousness, and it happens to almost everyone at some time or another.

Let him or her know that it feels different for everyone. Some people can't breathe, their temperatures increase, they sweat or they get muscular cramps. Others feel claustrophobic or experience irrational fears.

Help your child see that these are physical responses to a feeling that comes from your brain.

3. When does anxiety happen?

Anxiety can happen at any time, and it can happen for seemingly no reason at all. For example, an anxious kid might get incredibly stressed out trying to choose a birthday present or trying to figure out what to wear for Halloween.

Regardless of the reasons why your child is feeling anxious, these feelings arise when your child's body thinks it's in danger. At that point, your child's natural fight or flight reflex comes into play, and that can be hard to deal with (for both the child and the adult supporting him or her).

4. Where does anxiety happen?

Anxiety can happen anywhere, from bedrooms, to classrooms, to the home, but inside the brain, it happens in the amygdala. The amygdala gives your body strength in times of need. This part of the brain is what makes intense feats such as lifting a car possible during emergencies.

However, this amazing part of the brain can also be troublesome. Particularly, it's troublesome when it kicks in outside of an emergency. Let your child know that this is the superhero part of his or her brain, but sometimes, it works when it doesn't need to.

5. Why does anxiety happen?

Anxiety happens when the amygdala is unnecessarily stimulated, but it flourishes in cases where people (kids and adults alike) don't know how to address it. Help your child find ways to reduce his or her feelings of anxiety.

Practice mindful breathing exercises, guide your child through some yoga stretches and help him or her in self-care (taking relaxing baths, creating a quiet safe space, drink some calming tea, etc.).

Dealing with anxiety in kids can be difficult. Know that you are not alone, and call a counsellor for help if your child's anxiety feels overwhelming for him or her.