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All children experience some amount of anxiety but children with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience frequent and higher levels of anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder is a mental health problem where feelings of anxiety and worry don’t go away and interfere with the child’s daily activities. Some children with GAD worry about the safety of family members, their personal abilities or social acceptance while other children with GAD experience worry and fear that has no identifiable cause. Children with generalized anxiety disorder are often very self-critical and prefer to avoid activities due to a fear of failure. It is important to understand the effects of generalized anxiety disorder in kids so that you can help your children overcome their fears.
5 Ways to Help your Child Cope with Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder has become a common kids’ mental health issue as studies show that this disorder affects about 1% of children and 3% of adolescents. Therapists and counselors can provide your child with help and guidance but parents play a vital role as they provide love, acceptance and support. Here are 5 simple ways in which you can help your child with generalized anxiety disorder cope in school:
- Schedule daily family time
Generalized anxiety disorder often makes kids want to isolate themselves from everyone else. Activities such as family game night or simply chatting about the events of the day can help to strengthen family bonds and encourage your child to socialize. Arts and crafts projects are also a good option for family night as your child will be able to take their completed project to school to show it to the other kids. This is a simple way to help your child interact with others without the pressure of initiating a conversation.
- Use Exposure Therapy
Exposure therapy is a cognitive behavioral therapy technique in which your child is exposed to their anxiety stressors in gradual increments. Think of exposure therapy as a way in which your child can dip a toe in the water before diving in. For instance, if picking out clothes for school is a stressor, you can ask your child to choose only the socks that she will wear that day. One she is comfortable choosing her own socks on a daily basis, you can move on to the shoes and then the rest of her outfit. Gradual exposure along with constant encouragement will help your child understand and manage her anxiety.
- Practice ‘Decatastrophization’
Decatastrophization is a technique used to realistically confront the worst-case scenario of a feared event. For instance, if your child doesn’t engage with his peers due to a fear of rejection, you can ask him to imagine what would happen if he tried to talk to someone in his class and the other child did not respond. Typically, your child would say that he would feel hurt or embarrassed at which point you would ask him to explain what would happen after that and whether the effects would last. This helps your child realize that even the worst-case scenario is not that bad and that if it occurs, your child knows that he can simply move on and talk to another child.
- Teach Coping Techniques
Generalized anxiety disorder can be devastating and debilitating which is why coping techniques are a vital part of any treatment plan. It is important to understand that simply telling your child not to worry is not a solution. In fact, this could make things a lot worse as it will increase your child’s feelings of frustration and helplessness. Discuss coping techniques for generalized anxiety disorder with a therapist of counsellor who specializes in anxiety disorders in kids. Teach your child these techniques so that your child gains control over the condition. School exams can be a stressor so conduct your own ‘rehearsal’ sessions at home which will give your child the opportunity to get used to the process.
- Make time to meditate every day
Children who have generalized anxiety disorder tend to have racing thoughts throughout the day. This can even interfere with their sleep process as it can lead to difficulty falling asleep and even insomnia. Meditation helps to calm the mind and induces relaxation which will help to alleviate your child’s anxiety and help him sleep better at night. Put aside a certain amount of time on a daily basis for meditation and if possible, have regular timings for your meditation sessions. Studies show that mindful meditation has a beneficial effect on GAD anxiety symptoms and improves the ability to cope with stress.
Generalized anxiety disorder is likely to be the result of biological and environmental factors. Experts say that it is likely that an imbalance of serotonin (the happy chemical) plays a part in the development of this condition. Healthy habits such as regular sleep timings and daily exercise increase serotonin levels and can help to prevent generalized anxiety disorder in children. You can also talk to a therapist to learn more about how you can help your child build resilience against fear and anxiety.
Author’s Bio: Anita Fernandes has been writing extensively on health and wellness for over a decade. She has expertise in nutrition, fitness, public health, and weight loss and has contributed content to a variety of leading digital health publishers. Anita has a unique perspective on healthy living and lifestyle, as she has battled and overcome chronic stress and mental health issues. She shares her experiences in an effort to help others build resilience and overcome the problems that can sometimes seem insurmountable.