How to Reassure Your Nervous Child in a Haywire World
We must often calm our children’s fears, especially in a world that seems to have gone haywire. But if you are the parent of a nervous child, you may find that reassurances like “there’s nothing to worry about” don’t help. What do you do when your reassurance does not reach your nervous child?
About one in five children in the U.S. suffers from an anxiety disorder—fear that goes beyond the norm. One nervous child suffers meltdowns when a parent leaves, even temporarily. Another is so terrified of dogs that they can’t play in the park. Another nervous child might be physically sick with headaches, stomach aches, etc. because they fear being humiliated or teased at school.
Whether they are more sensitive to possible danger than normal or whether they have learned to be anxious from the people around them, nervous children need help dealing with their anxiety. Knowing how to reassure your nervous child in this haywire world can provide that help.
How Not to Reassure
The nervous child turns minor worries into giant fears, out of proportion to the situation. Dismissing the fear with “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” doesn’t comfort them. Trapped in a process they can’t control, these kids can’t see reality. They have a picture in their head that frightens and disturbs them. Facts and logic don’t help them to deal with these feelings.
Just avoiding the cause of the worry doesn’t help, either. Letting a child play alone in his room because he fears the big dog he met in the park last week won’t help him overcome his fear.
An Approach to Reassurance
The best kind of reassurance helps your nervous child learn to examine and dismiss their fear for themselves. To do that it’s important to look closely at the reason for your child’s anxiety.
Help your child separate feelings and facts
First, make sure your nervous child knows that you are there for him. Then help the child see his feelings are not the same as the facts. Take the time to listen. Repeat back what your child says to make sure you understand the concern.
Your anxious child’s fear of the neighbor’s dog or of giving a book report in front of the whole class has less to do with the actual situation than with their unrealistic understanding of the risks involved. Explain what worry is for—to protect us from danger. Then help separate imagined danger from real danger.
Teach your nervous child to think accurately about the worry. What are their worry thoughts? What’s the evidence that the worry will come true? What can they say to challenge the worry?
Help your child verbalize the fear
Ask questions to help your child verbalize the fear. “What are you afraid will happen?” Go on to ask, “What do you think is the most likely thing to happen?” If your nervous child fears he will catch “germs” because he walked by someone who sneezed, you might ask, “How many other people saw him sneeze? Do you think they’ll all get sick?”
Help your child problem-solve
Is there something your child could do to prepare better? About that book report. Would rehearsing help?
Practice situations that cause worry. Your child will have tools to take care of himself when he’s afraid.
Have some fun with this
- Personalize fear. Give it a name. Make child’s worry into a character, such as “Mr. Worry Wort,” or “Scary Sam.” Role play scenes so your child can learn to combat these fears.
- Help your nervous child write out a list of worries with smart comebacks.
- Set a time of day and a time limit for worrying. When time is up, close the “worry box” and get on with the day.
- Reward your nervous child when they meet their fears head-on.
More Ways to Reassure Your Nervous Child
- Teach your child to use deep breathing to calm himself when he’s anxious.
2. Break a fearsome task into small, manageable chunks. Today we’ll walk past the neighbor’s dog together. Tomorrow we’ll stop and say hello. Next week we’ll ask the neighbor if we can pet his dog.
3. Help your nervous child create a checklist to remind them how to deal with a worry or fear. For example: First, deep breaths. Second, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Third,” I am ready. I planned for this.”
4. With your nervous child, create a bedtime ritual, to help calm and relax. Turn off the TV, read a soothing book. Use deep breathing or relaxation exercises to help.
Reassuring Your Nervous Child Is Possible
Reassurance begins with understanding the cause of your nervous child’s fears and letting them know you support them. The best approach is to focus on giving your child tools to manage anxiety. Separating feelings from facts, verbalizing and personalizing your child’s fear, role-playing, rehearsing, and methods of self-calming are some useful reassurance tools.
If this article interested you, check out my article titled Is Your Child Anxious? 5 Things You Can Do to Help. For more information contact us and schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.
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