From the Scholastic Bookshelf: How to Talk to Your Child About Anxiety

Here are ways to help if you think your child is in distress.

Jun 17, 2022



From the Scholastic Bookshelf: How to Talk to Your Child About Anxiety

Jun 17, 2022

Children can experience anxiety just like adults. Anxiety is fear of the future or a preoccupation with the unknown, and it affects people of all ages. While kids may have a harder time articulating their feelings, there are signs you can look for if you think your child is anxious.  

You may notice them avoiding certain activities or parts of their daily routine. Or they may present signs of distress, like trembling or crying. Don’t be discouraged: Remember that anxiety is common and treatable. What’s important is that you address behavioral changes when you detect them.

For its 100th anniversary, Scholastic spoke with experts to identify a set of tips, articles and books that make starting a conversation with your child about anxiety easier. These resources are part of a broader initiative, called the Scholastic Bookshelf, created for Instagram to raise awareness around contemporary issues affecting children today.

One of these resources is “Living With Anxiety,” an article in Scholastic Choices, the health, social-emotional learning, and life-skills magazine for grades 7–12. Perfect for reading with your child, this article shares several stories of teenage children who suffered from anxiety and the ways in which they learned to cope. 

Here are four ways to approach and address your child’s anxiety, as discussed in “Living With Anxiety.”

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1. Try breathing techniques.

Michael Feenster from Baltimore discovered deep-breathing techniques worked to calm himself during anxious moments. Breathing exercises are a common — and effective — solution for anxiety relief. By tuning in to your breaths, you can focus on the present, and stop your brain from fast-forwarding to worries about the future. 

Deep breathing is also mentioned as a segue to calm in Raina Teglemeier’s best-selling kids’ book, Guts, a New York Times reader favorite. Guts follows a young Raina as she struggles with the common symptoms of anxiety before bringing them under control with talk therapy.

2. Talk to someone.

Experts agree you should never dismiss your child’s worries; instead, validate them. Say you believe what they’re feeling. Say it’s going to be okay and be calm. You can ask open-ended questions about what your child is feeling and see how they respond.

In one Scholastic Choices article, Michael from Baltimore voiced his concerns to his mother after he began having panic attacks.

“I told her that I didn’t know what was wrong with me,” he says. “Once I said my thoughts out loud, they weren’t as bad.”

Michael’s mother made an appointment with a therapist, who identified his feelings as anxiety. Through a combination of therapy, medication, and talking openly with friends and family, Michael was able to manage his feelings of unease.

“I want people to know that a mental health issue is just like any other health issue,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with it. The only problem is if you ignore it and don’t treat it.” 

3. Find their outlet.

Gauging your child’s interests and guiding them toward activities they’ll love is one way to help them focus on the present and keep their worries at bay.

In addition to therapy and medication, Michael discovered a range of activities that helped him manage his anxiety, including running track, playing video games, and his real passion, photography.

 “When I focus on my pictures, it takes up so much of my attention that there’s no room for anxiety,” he says.

Encouraging curiosity is another way you can steer your child away from “worst-case scenario” thinking. When children pursue new knowledge, the scary feelings associated with anxiety shrink. Learning is a feel-good activity, similar to the boost you get from accomplishing a goal.

Abbie Seale from Austin found relief from her anxiety through playing music. As she tells Scholastic Choices, she taught herself to play electric bass, ukulele, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and drums after developing an anxiety disorder in middle school.

4. Learn to H.A.L.T.

A popular mindfulness technique — and handy tool — you can teach your child is H.A.L.T., which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. If your child is feeling vulnerable in any one of these areas, they may experience mental or physical symptoms similar to those anxiety produces. Check in with your child to see if these “risk states” are balanced, and if not, build in the necessary self-care. 

Psychologist Shane G. Owens, an assistant director of campus mental health at Farmingdale State College in Farmingdale, New York, suggests exercising, playing music, taking a bath, being in nature, or journaling or painting as ways to press the “refresh” button.

Be sure to visit the Scholastic Bookshelf for more resources on anxiety and other must-discuss topics. You can also shop more books about anxiety and soothing worries below. Discover all books and activities at The Scholastic Store.  

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