5 Simple Ways to Walk through Anxiety with Children and Teens

I remember it just as if it happened yesterday. I was walking in the Super-Valu grocery store (my little one stop light hometown grocery store!) right by the milk and eggs case. My mom dragged my sister and I to the store after picking us up from the babysitter following a long day of school and work for all of us. I was incredibly shy as a child and this specific day, my shyness was elevated. I really only liked to go to the grocery store for the candy bar I might get. As my mom was picking up the gallon of 2% milk, I distinctly remember another mother and child passing by us and found myself hidden by my mom’s side. And then I heard it, the voice of that other child, younger than myself, asking his mom, “Why does she look like that?” An innocent question that my child brain could not understand and only took offense to. I instantly felt like a monster. In the days, months, and years ahead, I would only become more hesitant to go into the grocery store. While I vividly remember this story, I do not remember how my mom found a way to comfort me, but she did. I would reluctantly go back into that grocery store in the years ahead, mostly because she made me. But even to this day I still have some anxiety about going into grocery stores, or any sort of public store for that matter, at times. For most of my life I always these feelings were just a case of extreme shyness, I now realize these feelings were actually anxiety. The shyness, was just how my anxiety reared its ugly head. I never recognized my reluctance in social settings as anxiety until recently, to be honest. I do not think my parents ever recognized my shyness as anxiety either It always had a mask – shy, scared, intimidated, overwhelmed, nervous, Crouzons (a birth defect), introverted. While I do not blame my parents for my shyness going unrecognized, I do wish I would have been able to call it what it was at an early age and found ways to deal with it. If I had been able to learn how to deal with my anxiety, I probably would have found more self-confidence at an earlier age. So today that is why I am writing this article. If you are a parent, guardian, or caretaker who believes your child is struggling with anxiety, here are some things you can do with them to help walk through the anxiety: 1. Educate yourself. There are a lot of great resources with just a quick Google search. One website I found to be easy to understand and could send me elsewhere for further research was the Anxiety and Depression Society of America. Here you can learn about different types of anxiety and find more ways of how to deal with it in specifically children and teens. 2. Have Patience! Provide Comfort, Model Coping Mechanisms. Fear often can produce anxiety. It can be something as simple as a thunderstorm rolling through. It is easy to get angry because the child’s fear seems like something petty they just need to get over. But the truth is, their fear is a valid emotion, because they are honestly scared. Maybe they watched a movie that triggered these fears or learned about storms in school, or the hurricane that came through last year really scared them. Instead of becoming angry or irritated, have patience. Use this time to educate them about a storm. Explain that not all storms turn into hurricanes. Explain that the rain, thunder, and lightning are all good for the earth (maybe even find a good book to read during the storm which gives detail to this!). Share a time when a storm scared you. Sharing your fear helps to validate their fear, but then share with them how you overcame the fear. If the lights go out, put on a hand-puppet show to see that sometimes storms can be fun! Model for them how to calm themselves down – breathe deep and slow breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. 3. Listen, Don’t Assume! Let your child explain what is going on, don’t assume you know what is triggering their anxiety. If they cannot find the words just yet, comfort them. Give it a little time and then start asking questions. What is upsetting you? Again, do not name what you think is upsetting them, let them name it. Ask them to show you through their play. Have them act it out for you. A lot of times puppets or stuffed animals can work as great characters to help children verbalize their thoughts and feelings. 4. Don’t avoid future situations that may cause anxiety. Avoiding anxiety does not teach a child how to deal with their anxiety. So if going to the grocery store makes them anxious, don’t just allow them to avoid the grocery store. Ease them into these situations, walking through them with the child – remembering to have patience. Maybe the first time will take a talk in the car before going inside. Maybe the second time you can give your child a task in the grocery store (maybe they push the cart or they mark off the items on your list). If they are a teenager, give them the responsibility, when they are ready, to go to the grocery store for you. Not only does avoiding these situations not help with the anxiety, but it also teaches them that they can avoid any difficult tasks that comes their way, so equip them with ways to face these situations! 5. Pray through the Anxiety. One of my absolute favorite scriptures is Philippians 4:6-7 in the Message translation: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Memorize this verse, teach it to your children, write it on their bathroom mirror, post it on your refrigerator, put in on the dashboard of their car. When they are anxious, pray! Teach them to go to God to find the peace they need to walk through this situation. While this is listed last, it very likely should be the first thing to do to deal with anxiety, whether you are an adult, child, or teenager! Anxiety is tough for anyone to go through, let alone a precious child. If you believe your child or teen is suffering from anxiety, find someone to talk with. A counselor can teach both you and your child coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety and walk through this time with you. More than anything, know that you are not alone. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 25.1% of teens ages 13-18 deal with anxiety. For example, in a classroom of 20, there are more than likely 5 students who are struggling with anxiety. As a parent, guardian, caretaker, you are not alone and neither is your child. Be encouraged, anxiety disorders can be phases in a child’s life, but they also can be dealt with in healthy ways! For more information, Contact Us today or check out any of the websites referenced above! ~ Kristi Kristi Moore is a student at Campbell University Divinity School finishing up her final year of the Masters of Divinity program. She has worked with middle school and high school students for 11 years in the church and school system. She has combined her love of writing with her desire to see human beings understand who they are in Christ, along with her own life experiences to write these blogs. Her greatest hope for this blog is that the readers learn something about God, about themselves, and may be able to smile at some point while reading! Be blessed!!