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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Child Anxiety and Stress

Child Anxiety and Stress

Tips for Coping

By Sandra S. Pimentel, PhD


HEALTH- From making friends to starting school, anxiety and worry are expected parts of child development.  Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental health issue faced by young people and they can co-occur with other medical and complex life issues

At Montefiore, our newly launched Anxiety and Mood Program in the Child Outpatient Psychiatry Department specializes in treating youth with anxiety, trauma, mood and related disorders and seeks to provide comprehensive, evidence-based assessment and treatment services for children and their families.   

So how do we teach our patients to cope? Like any other skill, we do on purpose and step-by-stepHere are some suggestions for helping kids cope with anxiety:

Validate. Instead of jumping ahead to problem solving, take a moment to validate that certain situations areindeed scary.  Helping kids to make sense of their emotions include helping them to feel them! Anxiety is normal—it’s even good for you!  
Get Specific.  Offering general advice statements such as “Don’t worry” or “You’ll be fine” may feel invalidating or even dismissive. Learning to cope with anxiety includes helping kids learn how to get specific about their experiences. What specifically do they think will happen? 

Work with Kids to Understand the Problem. Before we can problem solve, we must understand the problem.  Anxiety and stress include feelings, thoughts, and behaviors; in turn, problem solving includes helping kids to learn how to identify and understand that how they think is related to how they feel and what they do or don’t do.

Practice Problem-Solving/Coping. Teaching kids to cope with anxiety and stress includes teaching them to problem solve. When kids feel anxious, they may have trouble seeing options. Teach kids to recognize their specific anxious thoughts, feelings, and actions (oravoidance), and then to brainstorm as many alternatives to dealing with these as possible. Is there another way to view a situation? What are some calming strategies for when your heart is racing? How can you practice for that presentation

Encourage Approach over Avoidance. It’s true--avoiding a situation that makes us nervous works…but the relief is temporary! And, avoidance actually serves to keep anxiety going in the long term.  It also keeps kids from practicing coping skills and deprives them of learning that outcomes are not always as bad as we predict. 

Model Your Own Stress Management SkillsOftentimes, parents try to hide their worries or share their worries without sharing their coping steps. Children learn skills by observingand parents can model coping and problem solving.  What do parents do when they are stressed? Talk it out. Brainstorm examples together.

For many children and adolescents anxiety may become so severe that it interferes with healthy development. Some potential red flags include:
• Chronic stomach pains or physical symptoms when worried
• Frequent requests to leave and/or be picked up from school, or multiple trips to the school nurse
• Withdrawal from peers or social activities (e.g., clubs, parties, teams)
• Excessive clinginess and/or reassurance-seeking questions that are asked repeatedly
• Sleep or eating disturbances
For more information about our Anxiety and Mood Program call: 718-696-3011

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