6 Ways To Soothe An Anxious Child

Don’t let your child suffer from the most common mental illness in the U.S.

Medically reviewed in February 2022

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Adults aren’t the only ones affected by mental health conditions; children can suffer from anxiety that reaches beyond the normal fears of childhood, too. Between 6 percent and 18 percent of children and teens are affected by anxiety disorders that can increase their risk for depression, poor academic performance and, in some cases, drug use.

Spotting the signs of these conditions is the first step in getting your young one help. Mustafa Pirzada, MD, a psychiatrist with JFK Medical Center North Campus, in West Palm Beach, Florida reveals common signs and treatment options for anxiety, plus ways parents can help anxious children.

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Determine the cause

Knowing what triggers your child’s anxious feelings can be important to helping them overcome their anxiety. What causes stress can vary, but common triggers include academics, social situations or bullying. Knowing the primary cause of your young one's mental anguish can help parents understand when and how they should intervene, or seek professional help, if needed.

A child who is crippled by speaking to or in front of others may have social anxiety. Major changes like divorce or a big move can also spark anxiety. A professional can evaluate these triggers to help determine a course of treatment for a child.

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Stop stressing yourself

Parents can help an anxious child by better managing their own anxiety. The way we react to anxiety and stress are partially learned behaviors, and it’s only natural for kids to pick up on the actions of their parents.

“Children often look to parents to find some recourse into what they’re feeling," Pirzada says. "If they have anxious parents, the child will learn that the response to that particular situation is one of anxiety,” he adds. Showing self-compassion and handling stress in positive ways can teach children they are capable of managing their stress and anxiety in a productive manner, too.

Some helpful stress management techniques include exercise, meditation, taking a break from stressors and laughing a little. 

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Remove environmental stressors

A child’s home environment plays a major role in his or her mental health. Parental drug use, domestic violence and frequent or severe arguments can all contribute to feelings of negativity and anxiety in children.

If a child's home life begins to affect their mental health, parents should take the appropriate steps to reduce those negative influencers. The same rule may also apply to the classroom. Teachers and administrators should intervene if a child's mental health is damped by bullying or other intolerable behavior.

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Increase communication

An important way to treat a child’s anxiety is open communication. Kids who experience anxiety often become withdrawn. If you’ve noticed your child is isolating himself, it’s important to open communication, and let him know he can discuss his fears or anxieties.

“If parents notice a rapid change in their child’s behavior, especially if there's a decline in their social functioning or their academic performance, they need to discuss what may be happening,” Pirzada says.

Talking with your child also provides parents with the opportunity to teach coping strategies, like relaxation techniques and breathing exercises.

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Get your child involved

Creating situations for your children to interact with other kids can help them cope with anxiety. “Getting [kids] involved in social activities like groups, clubs, organizations [and] sports in school is very important,” Pirzada says. “Keeping children active, happy and social can help them avoid sources of anxiety like bullying, drugs, sexting, cyber bullying, social media [or] television.” 

Encourage your kids to join sports and activities, as creating a routine may be helpful for managing anxiety. Extracurricular activities are great, but if you're young one isn't up for hitting the soccer, be flexible and cognizant of his or her feelings. 

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Recognize fears, but don't indulge them

Don’t give your children a reason to be worried. Using your words, tone of voice and body language, recognize your child’s fears, but don’t reinforce them. Let your child know you understand their fear and that it’s okay to be afraid—but that they doesn’t have to be.

This might include remaining calm during a child's fit of anxiety, as your actions show how your young one how they could better react to an upsetting event or situation. 

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