Emily Stone, LICSW, social worker and Senior Clinical Strategist at Mightier
Kids who struggle with anxiety are thoughtful, brave, and perceptive.
They enjoy harmony and strive to find balance within their relationships with family and friends. This makes them great friends and listeners. They are often great at planning and developing clear next steps.
Typically when kids are struggling with anxiety, they are presented with tools to shed them of their worry. They are told to “think about positive things” or to “notice the anxious thought and let it float away.”
We often tell kids that there are ways to get rid of their anxiety when in reality, it is sometimes best to embrace it and understand it as an important message from their body.
When describing anxiety, I often start by telling kids about the purpose of anxiety. I tell kids that anxiety is an emotion that keeps us safe. It is there to tell our body when there is something to be fearful of- much like a fire alarm in a house does. The alarm tells us when there is a potential danger in order to keep us out of harm’s way.
For kids who struggle with anxiety, I talk to them about how their alarm is going off more often. It does not just go off for big fires, but also if they burn toast in the toaster (which sometimes gets a laugh.) I tell them that everyone has this alarm but that theirs may be a bit more sensitive.
It is not necessarily a bad thing that their fire alarm is extra responsive. Its job is to keep them safe, but that the alarm can probably get annoying and disruptive for them throughout the day.
Helping kids to recognize the fundamental purpose of anxiety helps to not only destigmatize a child’s view of their anxiety but also helps them to feel empowered. By understanding their anxiety a bit better, kids can feel more confident and open to trying ways to manage their anxiety when it arises.