But navigating your way through those speed bumps will serve them well in the years to come, says Renee Jain, who has a Masters in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.
In the heat of the moment, she recommends trying these simple phrases to help children identify, accept, and work through their biggest fears.
- “Can you draw it?”
Drawing, painting or doodling about an anxiety provides kids with an outlet for their feelings when they can’t use their words.
- “I love you. You are safe.”
Being told that you will be kept safe by the person you love the most is a powerful affirmation. Remember, anxiety makes your children feel as if their minds and bodies are in danger. Repeating they are safe can soothe the nervous system.
- “Let’s pretend we’re blowing up a giant balloon. We’ll take a deep breath and blow it up to the count of five.”
If you tell a child to take a deep breath in the middle of a panic attack, chances are you’ll hear, “I CAN’T!” Instead, make it a game. Pretend to blow up a balloon, making funny noises in the process. Taking three deep breaths and blowing them out will actually reverse the stress response in the body and may even get you a few giggles in the process.
- “I will say something and I want you to say it exactly as I do: ‘I can do this.’”
Do this 10 times at variable volume. Marathon runners use this trick all of the time to get past “the wall.”
- “Why do you think that is?”
This is especially helpful for older kids who can better articulate the “Why” in what they are feeling.
- “What will happen next?”
If a child is anxious about an event, help them think through the event and identify what will come after it. Anxiety causes myopic vision, which makes life after the event seem to disappear.
- “We are an unstoppable team.”
Separation is a powerful anxiety trigger for young children. Reassure them that you will work together, even if they can’t see you.
- Have a battle cry: “I am a warrior!”; “I am unstoppable!”; or “Look out World, here I come!”
There is a reason why movies show people yelling before they go into battle. The physical act of yelling replaces fear with endorphins. It can also be fun.
- “If how you feel was a monster, what would it look like?”
Giving anxiety a characterisation means you take a confusing feeling and make it concrete and palpable. Once kids have a worry character, they can talk to their worry.