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Helping an Anxious Child

Seven Things Parents Can Do to Help an Anxious Child

Anxiety is the most common emotional disorder in the United States, and the seeds are sown in childhood. Ten to 15 percent of American children meet the diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can cause sleep disturbance, nausea, digestive problems and other ailments. Countless other children face general anxiety over school pressures, divorce, terrorism and war and similar influences.

Dr. Paul Foxman, of the Center for Anxiety Disorders, has outlined the personality profile of anxious children in his new book, The Worried Child: Recognizing Anxiety in Children and Helping Them Heal (Hunter House, January 2004). He offers concrete strategies and advice for parents and all adults who work with and care for children.

1. Strengthen self-esteem. Teach your child the skill of positive self-talk. Point out that criticism should be taken as feedback for improvement, not judgment.

2. Reign in perfectionism. Distinguish between perfection and "excellence" – doing one's best within reasonable time limits and current resources. Help your child break down tasks into steps, focus on the big picture and view "mistakes" as learning opportunities.

3. Develop realistic expectations. Work with your child to set achievable goals so she can experience positive results and gratification. Remind her that enjoyment is an important goal.

4. Control the need for control. Being in control is an attempt to feel safe and secure. Help your child understand that while he cannot control others, he can control his thoughts, feelings and reactions.

5. Learn to relax. Teach relaxation skills and provide opportunities for relaxation, such as reading, music, naps, quiet games and gentle stretching or yoga. Remind your child that play and recreation are necessary for health. Set a good example by practicing what you preach.

6. Plan, don't worry. Help your child understand that worry is not an effective or realistic way to prepare for upcoming events. Show how she can learn to plan instead of worry.

7. Drop the "shoulds." Encourage him to replace "I should" with "I could choose." Emphasize the concept of choice. Distinguish between "wants" and "shoulds."

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