One Way to reduce anxiety in children is to Recognize “Anxiety Personality Traits.” All children are different and exhibit anxiety in varying ways, but some children will fit an overall pattern by having similar traits or symptoms. Anxious children may share traits that are termed “anxiety personality style.” For each anxiety trait, there are techniques that parents can do to help reduce anxiety symptoms or traits.
Personality Traits in Anxious Children
Anxious children are typically good students, who strive to do well to please others. They seek approval and are quiet and shy around unfamiliar people. The anxious child tends to be a perfectionist and is usually frustrated when he makes mistakes. This coupled with a high motivation to do well results in stress even when he does well. Academically, he may receive high grades, but overwork himself to achieve them. This causes a stress cycle to occur, which results in increased anxiety.
Anxious children may also be affected by their surroundings. This includes stimuli such as lights, sounds, smells, and the influence of other people. Children with anxiety also have trouble relaxing as they are on “high alert” all the time. There are many ways to reduce anxiety in children, but to help your child it’s important to understand the anxiety personality style.
Traits that make up the anxiety personality style include:
Oversensitivity to criticism/rejection
Strong control needs
Tendency to please others
Difficulty with assertiveness
What if thinking
Sensitivity to Surroundings
Advantages of the Anxiety Personality Style
The traits that form the anxious personality style also have advantages. Children with this type of personality are successful in school, they are kind, loyal, and sensitive to the needs of others. It is important to build on these strengths to offset and reduce anxiety symptoms.
Ways to Reduce Anxiety in Children
Oversensitivity to criticism/rejection. Teach your child positive self-talk such as criticism is feedback for making improvements. Have your child wear a bracelet, each time she engages in negative self-talk, have her move the bracelet to the other wrist and change the negative to a positive.
Sensitivity to Surroundings. A warm, quiet space with dimmed lighting is calming to the nervous system, which reduces anxiety symptoms. Help your child make a list of what helps her to feel calm and then create a space she can retreat to practice coping strategies. Remember to have your child practice strategies when she is happy and calm so she can use them when she feels stress and overwhelm.
Difficulty relaxing. Create a quiet mindful space and provide opportunities to practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Practice self-care in your own life as children will learn from your example. Read my book, Mindfulness for Children, for other suggestions on how to relax and reduce anxiety symptoms.
Strong control needs. Teach your child that there are things in their control and out of their control. Work with her through art to help her understand she cannot control other people -she only has control over her thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
Worry. Teach calming breathing strategies such as balloon breath or elevator breath. Replace worry (negative habit) with a positive mantra and behavior such as a focus on planning for a stressful event.
Perfectionism. Break down tasks into meaning units. Teach your child the difference between doing their best with the time and resources they have versus being perfect. Emphasize everyone makes mistakes -it is part of life. Books are a wonderful way to introduce trickier concepts to kids. Reading a book on mistakes may help reduce anxiety symptoms related to making mistakes and give your child a new perspective.