10 Tips to Reduce Child Stress and Fears
1. Validate, Don’t Reassure
Reassurances are well intended. However, they cause harm instead of helping. No matter how nicely couched or well put, reassurances give the message your child’s fear is unfounded and adds anxiety as children become anxious about having the anxiety. Validation, showing that you understand and commiserating empathically, using a formula such as “It sound like you’re nervous about (insert fear here), I’m sorry you’re going through that,” encourages problem solving and confidence and will go a long way in helping reduce child stress.
2. Ask Questions Rather Than Give Answers
Ask questions that help your child come up with solutions, rather than giving them solutions. This gives the message that your child has the power to overcome their fears. Appropriate questions include clarifying what in particular is making them anxious, how likely they feel the feared consequences may be, and how long they think the discomfort they fear may last. Most importantly, ask what other facts, or likely possibilities your child might be forgetting that may lessen the fear.
3. Use Empowering Phrases
If you have to introduce your own suggestions, use the following phrases that empower children, including “Would you be interested to know how I handle stress when I feel it?” or “Would you like to hear what I might do if I was in your situation?”
4. Inform Them
Let your child know that fear isn’t dangerous and that having anxiety doesn’t mean they won’t perform well or be able to accomplish the feared task. In fact, anxiety is our body’s way of getting us to prepare the right way.
5. Remind Them To Focus on Results
Help your child understand that worrying about and focusing on results and outcomes get is the way of doing the best job possible. The best thing they can do is focus on what they are doing in the present moment and gently bring back their attention to what they are doing, no matter how many times their attention strays.
6. Let Them Know That You Experience The Same Feelings
Let your child know that adults have stress and fear as well.
7. Make a List
Have your child make a list of strengths and examples of when they overcame fears to succeed.
8. Encourage Positive Self-Talk
Help your child develop their own personal mantras they can use to talk back to fears and concerns. This helps replace negative thoughts with realistic thoughts, which allows your children approach feared situations in a more effective and accurate way.
9. Let Them Encounter Fear
Set up opportunities for your child to encounter their feared situations in small doses. For example, if your child is afraid of going to the dentist, arrange one day to go and wait in the waiting room for 15 to 20 minutes. Praise them for staying in the waiting room as long as they did and set up a different time to meet the dentist or to have them watch you at the dentist and so on, until their fear gradually diminishes to a tolerable level.
10. Seek Professional Assistance if Necessary
If your child continues to struggle, get them the right help earlier, rather than later. If you need help dealing with your anxiety issues, the greatest gift you can give your children is to effectively deal with that as well.