How Can I Help My Young Child With Anxiety?

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 6/28/2022

Give the feeling a label

Anxiety is a normal part of daily life, even for children. Help your young child with anxiety by giving the feeling a label, validating their feelings, tracking causes of anxiety, and using other methods.
Anxiety is a normal part of daily life, even for children. Help your young child with anxiety by giving the feeling a label, validating their feelings, tracking causes of anxiety, and using other methods.

Anxiety is a normal part of daily life, even for children. Children don't have the tools to process their anxiety, though, and that's where parents come in.

Anxiety disorders need more extensive treatment options. Luckily, there are plenty of tools available to use if you're parenting a young child with anxiety

Anxiety can be devious when you don't talk about it. It roils like boiling water in your brain without a pot to put it in. Putting a label on the anxiety, on the other hand, makes it easier to handle.

To help your child identify anxiety, give it a name. You can also let your younger child draw what they think their anxiety looks like, turning the emotion into a third-party entity. 

Labeling anxiety like this allows your child to separate themselves from their anxiety. Once they've taken a step back, they can start to tackle their anxiety. 

Validate their feelings

Regardless of how irrational their worries may seem, your child is still experiencing those feelings. It would be best to let them know that what they're feeling is valid and you understand their anxiety.

You can help your child identify their emotions with more precise words during this time. Consider a phrase like "I know meeting new people can make you uncomfortable." It helps them figure out what is bothering them (meeting new people) and the feeling it causes (discomfort). 

Track causes of anxiety

Easing your child's anxiety one day usually isn't the end. Along with teaching them coping mechanisms, you can help prepare them for a tense situation.

In your preferred medium, track what the source of your child's anxiety is. Tracking the causes will help you notice trends and tackle them before they arise. 

For example, you may notice your child is anxious about meeting new people. You can teach them mechanisms to prepare them for a new encounter to lessen their anxiety.

Have worry time

Anxiety can eat up a lot of time and energy. Establishing a time to address anxiety can help your child categorize it and focus on the present.

Set aside a small amount of time (less than 10 minutes) daily to use as worry time. Let your child express their anxiety, validate their feelings, and figure out what to do about it once worry time finishes.

Encourage your child to save their worries until worry time. Knowing that they'll address it soon can make it easier to delay fixating on their anxiety.  

Help them face their fears

You shouldn't avoid the source of your child's anxiety. Avoidance enforces that they should feel anxious. It doesn't give them the skills to cope with anxiety in the future.

Anxiety tells you what you should fear, but you can't go through life avoiding everything that makes you anxious. Helping your child face those fears is the hard part of easing their anxiety. 

For serious fears, consider visiting a cognitive-behavioral therapist. They can form a plan to face whatever causes your child's anxiety.

Be a role model

How do you cope with anxiety? Do you want your child to cope the same ways that you do?

Being a good role model for your child doesn't mean putting on a brave face. It means showing that you acknowledge your anxiety and handle it in a healthy manner.

When feeling anxious or stressed, show your child how you cope with your emotions. Invite them to walk with you, take deep breaths, or use whatever methods you use to relieve anxiety.

Save "detective thinking" until afterward

When your child is anxious, it's understandable that you want to rationalize their worries immediately. Trying to solve the problem right away will likely cause more frustration for you and your child.

An anxious child probably won't listen to reason. Calm them first. Have them slow down with some breaths to calm their anxiety.

Once they're in a calmer place, you can start looking at their anxiety. 

Use the three Cs of detective thinking

One standard device in cognitive behavioral therapy is the three Cs. They can help your child slow down and deeply consider their anxiety. The three Cs are catch, check, and change.

Catch. The first step requires your child to pinpoint the thought that ignited their anxiety. Where did it come from? Has it happened before?

Check. The second step is checking the thought. Is it accurate or helpful? Does your child believe the thought is true? What if someone else was having that thought?

Change. The last step requires a bit of creativity. It involves coming up with a better, rational response to the anxiety-inducing thought. In the future, your child has the framework of the new response instead of the anxious one.


A Visual Guide to Generalized Anxiety Disorder See Slideshow

Focus on what they control

Anxiety often comes from things that are out of your control or unpredictable. Your child has even less control of the world around them.

Another simple tool is labeling what they can and can't control. Once your child figures out what they can control, they can focus on that part of their life.

To help this, give them control. Help your child stick to routines, keep good habits, and make decisions. 

Live a healthy lifestyle

It's easier said than done, especially with anxiety. Eating a nutritious diet, sleeping well, exercising, and a supportive social network can reduce your child's anxiety.

Many of these habits serve double duty. Sleep and nutrition keep your child's mind sharp, exercise harnesses anxious energy, and a social life gives them perspective. 

Differentiate typical from chronic anxiety

Everyone has anxiety. Some signs might suggest that you should seek professional help for your child. Take note if: 

  • Their anxiety lasts for a month or more. 
  • Their anxiety prevents them from doing other things, like succeeding in school or taking care of themselves. 
  • They have chronic physical symptoms, like stomachaches, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems.
  • Trouble sleeping or fatigue.

Speak to your doctor about getting an evaluation for your child. A professional can establish a therapy plan to treat your child's anxiety.

Medically Reviewed on 6/28/2022

The Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy: "Using the Mnemonic "Three Cs" with Children and Adolescents."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Anxiety and Depression in Children."

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: "How to Help Manage Your Child's Back-to-School Anxiety."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Anxiety in children."

npr: "How To Help A Child Struggling With Anxiety."