Dealing with anxiety: How to raise confident, comfortable kids

This article was written by Katie Vaughan and originally appeared in the Portland Monthly 2017 Kids’ Health Annual magazine as part of a larger series on independence. 

Illustration by Brave the Woods
Illustration by Brave the Woods

Would it surprise you to learn that anxiety disorders affect 25 percent of American teenagers?

“Occasional anxiety and worry is normal; it helps us notice our environment and adjust our behavior,” says Dr. Kyle Johnson, child psychiatrist at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. “But when that worry causes distress or impairment and hinders a kid’s development, then it’s a problem.”

Anxiety disorders range from social anxiety to PTSD and OCD. According to Dr. Johnson, it’s especially important for young kids with an anxiety disorder to seek professional treatment because they have a higher risk of developing a depressive disorder in adolescence.

Not sure if your child is dealing with an anxiety disorder? Children often have a hard time verbalizing their anxious feelings, so Dr. Johnson suggests keeping an eye out for changes in their behavior. Maybe your child has a sudden reluctance to do certain things, or has started avoiding school and social situations that they once enjoyed. The good news is that if your child struggles with anxious feelings, you can still help them on a day-to-day basis.

“We as parents can always help our kids by modeling means of coping,” says Dr. Johnson.

Talk to them about the times that you’ve ben anxious or worried and the healthy ways you learned to cope, like relaxation or mindfulness techniques.

“Let them know that it’s OK to feel that way and that it usually gets easier each time you do something that makes you anxious,” he advises.

More resources to help raise confident, comfortable kids:
Body image
Screen time
The value of free play