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Anxiety Management with Children


The following are common unhelpful strategies which well-intentioned parents and teachers use in response to anxiety in children (alternative strategies are provided in the next section):

> Excessively Reassuring the Child: While some reassurance is helpful, it is a fact that the more reassurance one gives, the more the child needs and demands it. Reassurance is a form of positive attention and can be very rewarding for a child. It also indirectly teaches children that they can't cope on their own.
> Being Too Directive: Many people, through trying to be helpful or through frustration, try to take over and make decisions or do things on behalf of the child. Thus, the child is prevented from learning that the feared situation is actually safe.
> Permitting or Encouraging Avoidance: For a number of very valid reasons, some people give in to a child's fears and allow him/her to avoid these. Whiie in the short term this diminishes anxiety in the child and stress for the parent, in the long-term it is the MAIN factor which maintains anxiety.
> Becoming Impatient with the Child: This is obviously a normal result of feeling frustrated and helpless in the face of a child's anxiety. Unfortunately, research shows that anger directed at children with anxiety frequently makes them more frightened and dependent.

Helpful Ways to Deal with the Child's Anxiety > Rewarding Brave, Nonanxious Behaviour: Initially, look for and reward any acts of bravery, no matter how small. Later, only reward the more obvious and "riskier" tasks undertaken. At times, you can gently encourage the child to try tasks that are a little more challenging and reward the child if these are attempted. Rewards can include praise and attention from the parent/teacher and material rewards of money, outings, toys etc. A coupon system or star chart is a valuable way of tracking and rewarding achievements. Make sure that rewards are meaningful to the child. Also make sure the child knows exactly what behaviour prompted the reward. Rewards should be on a par with the difficulty of the task. Most importantly, the reward must be given as soon as possible after the brave behaviour.

> Ignore Behaviours That You Don't Want: This is the opposite of thp previous strategy. It involves removing your attention from the child's anxious behaviour and attending to or praising him/her when the anxious behaviour stops. Prior to implementing this strategy, it may be useful to explain to the child that in future you will not pay attention to anxious behaviours (such as reassurance seeking) because this is not helpful to him/her. Also, explain what the child needs to do in order to regain your attention (e.g. complaining stops for 1 minute).
> Preventing Avoidance: Overcoming avoidance is the most effective strategy for eliminating anxiety. This is because each time a situation is avoided, it strengthens the anxious beliefs. By gradually exposing a child to more and more challenging situations where the anxious thoughts and predictions are shown to be false, he/she breaks the association between those situations and the anxious feelings which usually result. Always remember to start off with small tasks where the child is likely to experience success. Never prescribe tasks that are realistically too difficult for the child at that time. Exposure to tasks should occur repeatedly in a short space of time until the child has achieved mastery over the tasks and is becoming bored. Boredom and anxiety cannot occur simultaneously. Harder tasks should only be attempted when easier tasks have been mastered.
> Communicating Empathy: It is helpful the show the child you understand and empathise when he/she is talking about things which provoke anxiety. Avoid comments which suggest the child is overreacting or should not feel what he/she is feeling. Reflect back the feeling expressed by the child but then encourage problem-solving rather than focusing on how bad they feel.
> Prompt Children to Cope Constructively: Rather than telling a child exactly what to do in an anxiety-provoking situation, it is more helpful to prompt problem-solving which will be taught to the child in individual sessions with his/her therapist.
> Model Nonanxious Coping Behaviour: Children leam a lot about how to behave by observing others (especially parents and other significant adults). Thus, modelling coping behaviour in response to difficult situations is a very effective way of extinguishing established anxious responses in children. Diane Vivian Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust P O Box 34 892 Birkenhead NORTH SHORE CITY PH: 09 4806530 9am to 3pm FAX: 09 4806572 EMAIL 2012