How to Explain Anxiety to a Child

Teach Your Child to Recognize Anxiety Symptoms

As far-fetched as it may sound, catching a ball or riding a bike is a wonderful prerequisite for children to recognize symptoms of anxiety.

Why? Mostly, because anxiety doesn’t solely impact the mind. Rather, if your child struggles with anxiety, they will undoubtedly feel it in their body too.

So begin to point out when they’re out of breath from being physically active, for example. Or encourage them to put a hand on their chest to feel the “thump-thump” of their pounding heart.

These symptoms will be easier to identify if they’ve purposefully experienced and understood them before they happen during an anxiety attack.

When you observe your child beginning to feel anxious, identify the symptoms you see—shallow breathing, rapid heartbeat, flushed skin, upset stomach, etc. By identifying physical symptoms of anxiety, your child will feel empowered that what they’re experiencing is manageable. As a result, fear has much less control over them.

Help Identify the Fears Causing Anxiety

Unsurprisingly, explaining anxiety to a child doesn’t stop at identifying physical symptoms. Anxiety has a powerful influence over the mind too. Therefore, children need to be aware of this stronghold as well.

Depending on your child’s age, you may explain fear and anxiety triggers in different ways. A good way to make your explanation really effective is to keep it simple and relative to your child.

For example, fear that Mom won’t ever return home because her car broke down may resonate with a three-year-old. A pre-teen will need a bit more in-depth information to make sense of their fears.

To help a child of any age understand what fears drive their anxiety, ask open-ended questions. In other words, get them talking. Without even realizing it, they will reveal some of the thoughts that are likely racing through their mind.

Once the driving fears are identified, you can help them cope with both the thoughts and physical symptoms.

Empower Your Child with Coping Skills

To explain anxiety to your child, it’s important to follow explaining anxiety symptoms with pointing out ways your child can cope with them.

When your child can recognize physical symptoms of anxiety—rapid breathing, for example—teach them a skill to counter the negative impact. Deep breathing exercises are frequently a go-to skill for parents to teach (or anyone, really).

The amazing thing about deep breathing is that practicing it impacts the entire body, decreasing other physical symptoms of anxiety.

Use simple ways to explain how to practice deep breathing—pretend to breathe through a straw, push your belly out, make Mom’s hair move with your breath, etc. Remember, deep breathing is just one coping skill but often the most effective.

By teaching your child coping skills, you also send them the message that these feelings of anxiety are only temporary. Also, you empower them to understand that they can manage anxiety.

Explaining anxiety is full-circle—from physical symptoms to fears to coping skills. Keep in mind that every child is unique and a therapist can assist you to help your child.

If you believe your child is struggling with anxiety, I would like to help. Please contact me today to learn more about Family and Parenting Counseling.

Together, we can create a customized strategy for your child to cope with anxiety, empowering them to succeed in life despite their ailment.