Ages 10-12 (Tween)Ages 13-17 (Teen)Health

Raising The Anxious Child

I’ll start with a caveat – my kid has not been formally diagnosed as having an anxiety disorder. Neither has her father.  Both of them have dealt with panic attacks, phobias, and anxiety issues all their lives, but – so far at least – these issues have been mild enough that we’ve been able to deal, mostly, without medical intervention.

I say mostly, because now and then Dr. Skull requires a bit of Xanax, mainly when he needs to fly or visit the dentist.  Or get in elevators.  But who doesn’t!  In a perfect world, in my opinion, Xanax would be available in gum machines in the Wal-Mart, and it would cost a quarter for a handful.

But my kid.

From time to time she gets a little wound up.  Tense.  Panicked, even.

It’s not always easy to predict what will make her anxious.  I mean, sometimes it is – I knew she would be anxious before she started high school, for instance. (For about a month.) Seeing something scary or horribly upsetting on TV or at the movies also sets her off, so much so that she really prefers not to see movies in the theater anymore, since she can’t easily walk away from that situation.

Or not being able to do a problem in her math homework (due the next day, MOM).  Once she had a giant panic attack because she dropped her apple on the floor, and then ate it anyway, and then decided that this meant she would die from some awful floor-related disease.

Telling her to calm down at these times is not useful.

Telling her she’s panicking over nothing is worse than useless.

We found a few sites on the internet which talked about panic attacks and how to deal with them.  This was useful.  (Not as useful as Xanax, but oddly enough physicians won’t give Xanax to sixteen year olds. Jerks.)

Some steps for talking yourself through a panic attack:

  • Accept that it’s happening – don’t fight the fact that you’re having a panic attack. Breathe and admit it. Be aware, though, that it’s just a psychological event. Nothing bad is actually happening.  It’s just your mind fucking with you.
  • Accept your body and your symptoms. Notice how you feel.  This is how you feel during an attack.  It’s okay to feel this way.  Accept your actual feelings.
  • Breathe deeply.  In and out.  Continue observing.  What is your body doing?  Are your muscles tense?  Are they shaking?  Try to make your big muscles relax if you can.  If you can’t, accept that.
  • Be here now. Be in the world around you.  Try to be where you are, in this moment.
  • Repeat from the start: Accept, breathe, be here now. Remind yourself that panic attacks always end, and this one will too.


What’s also helpful, for dealing with anxious child?

  • Get lots of exercise.
  • Eat well – one study supports the claim that eating too much sugar can cause anxiety. I’ve seen speculation that it’s not the consumption of sugar itself which is causing the anxiety, but rather, the precipitous drop in blood sugar that follows the consumption of sugar, which mimics the feeling of an oncoming panic attack, thus causing anxiety. But I don’t find any studies supporting this, so take that for what it’s worth.
  • Get enough sleep. Exhaustion feeds anxiety.
  • You can trying letting your child talk, and then explain, rationally, why the thing she’s afraid of won’t happen. (Your mileage might vary here. This works with my kid.  Like – she explains that she’s terrified of dying of rabies, and I explain in detail all the reasons she can’t possibly have rabies, and how if she does get it we have the medical technology to deal with it.)
  • Lots of hugging. A study done by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that hugging is great for anxiety.


I’ve also found it useful to promise her that anxiety is worst for adolescents; that things will be better when she’s older.

“Everything gets better once you’re an adult,” I promise her.  “High school is absolutely the worst time of everyone’s life.”

“Why do they keep telling us these are the best years of our life?” she complains.

“Only idiots believe that,” I say.  “Believe me.”

This weekend I’m going to make her watch The Breakfast Club.


(Image Credits: From Wikicommons: Wikinony: Xanax XR Tablets; Renee: Unconditional.)


Raised in New Orleans, Kelly Jennings is a member and co-founder of the Boston Mountain Writers Group. She has published short fiction in Strange Horizons and The Future Fire, as well as in the recent feminist SF anthology The Other Half of The Sky. Her first novel, Broken Slate, was published by Crossed Genres. She blogs at delagar.

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