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Anxiety and Children—2  

Last month I wrote about the structure of anxiety in children and how doing the thing that comes most naturally, avoiding what causes the anxiety, will actually make things worse. This month I will talk about effective ways to tackle the anxiety problem.

The biggest tool in taking on anxiety is exposure to the thing that causes the anxiety in the first place. When children face fears and don’t back down, the anxiety decreases, sometimes even going away altogether.

There are several things to consider about this. One is that it may be important to expose a child to their fears on a gradually increasing basis. This is particularly important when the anxiety is quite extreme. Therapists will often help a child develop a “hierarchy of fears,” where the child rates how much anxiety is caused by different things or situations and then those are put in order from least anxiety provoking to most anxiety provoking. Then a child can be exposed to those items lower on the list first and gradually work their way up to the big doozies.

Another thing to consider is both real exposure and imagined exposure can be helpful. While real exposure to the thing a child is afraid of will be best, imagining exposure to it can also be very effective.

Finally, there are a number of other things that can be helpful to this process. Teaching a child skills to calm down their own nervous system is very helpful in putting the cap on anxiety. A number of breathing and visualization exercises can help with that. Teaching a child different patterns of thought about their fears can be helpful as well. Involving a whole family in addressing fears is helpful too. Family support, and most importantly, the whole family being on the same page for how to address the anxiety, can make the process much easier. Humor can also be helpful at times, particularly when everyone is on the same page about what needs to be done.

Next month I will write about things to avoid and how to go about seeking professional help in dealing with anxiety in your children.

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