Talking to kids about anxiety is a good step in helping them overcome situations that make them feel anxious and that they tend to avoid. Getting children to pay attention to their triggers can help them identify why they feel anxious and help them build tools to handle it.
Here are some helpful tips in talking to kids about anxiety.
1- Give it a name. I often refer to anxiety as a case of the "what-ifs". Kids who are anxious will usually start a sentence with "What-If" followed by some anxiety-inducing thought projected about a future event. "What-if I get on the wrong school bus? What if I forget where my locker is? What if I don't understand my homework?"
2- Give the truths about anxiety. Despite its discomfort, anxiety is not dangerous. In fact many kids are surprised to learn that a good amount of anxiety can actually be helpful and is a normal part of life.
3- Describe the triad of anxiety: body, mind, and behavior. Go over the physical sensations. For example, anxiety can be sweaty palms, upset stomach, warm forehead, dizziness, etc. Connect it to non-threatening situations like when you feel butterflies in your stomach when you are on line at the amusement park but the only difference is that you are not thinking that you are scared. Next, catch what it is you were thinking when you felt this way. Then review what you did when you felt anxious. Did it make it better or worse?
4- Teach kids to be like a detective and pay attention to the clues their body is giving them that anxiety is ahead. Encourage them to spot the clues and catch the "what-ifs" early so that they can change what they are thinking and do something else to calm themselves.
5- Share a time when you felt anxious. Modeling appropriate ways of dealing with anxiety is a powerful tool in reinforcing healthy coping behaviors.