Helping worried kids cope
“There’s nothing to be afraid of!”

What parent hasn’t blurted this out when trying to calm seemingly irrational fears in their child?

But if your child struggles with anxiety, it’s not helpful. That’s because it doesn’t teach children to identify the distorted thoughts that are often at the root of excessive worry, or to recognize and tame its disturbing physical symptoms.

“You want to give your child tools that will help them face the situation and cope,” says Bloorview psychologist Andrea Snider, who leads Coping Kids, a 10-week group for children with disabilities aged eight to 12 who struggle with anxiety.

Fears and worries are common in children and anxiety has been reported as one of the most common forms of psychological distress in people with intellectual disabilities.

“If your child is anxious, the first step is to determine if the fear is realistic — for example, does your neighbour have a viscious dog?” Andrea says. “In a case like that you need to
protect your child from danger.”

But if your child is petrified of a school test — even though she’s always done well and has studied hard — or refuses to go to gym class because she thinks kids will make fun of the way she runs, there are cognitive and relaxation techniques that can help your child face the situation and cope.

“Children who are anxious often tend to catastrophize — to see a situation as unimaginably huge,” Andrea says. “What they don’t recognize are the distorted thoughts running through their head and magnifying their fears,” Andrea says. “In Coping Kids, we get children to practise identifying what they’re thinking.”

For example, the child who’s frightened of a test may be telling himself: “I’m going to fail. Everyone will think I’m stupid. What if I fail the entire year? My life is over.”

In Coping Kids, children share examples of fear-provoking thoughts and record what they think during anxious times at home or school.

With practice, children learn to stop alarming thoughts and replace them with more balanced ones, Andrea says. For example, the child with a fear of tests can say: “I’ve studied a lot and I know this stuff. I’ve done well on tests before. It will be okay.”

The child who used to respond to teasing by telling herself “I’m a loser and everyone hates me” learns to instead say: “That guy must be having a really bad day. Thank goodness I know there are lots of other people who like me.”

Recognizing the physical symptoms of anxiety is a trigger for kids to calm themselves. “We play a game where we put a huge cut-out of a body on the wall and kids come and draw on the body what they feel when they’re scared,” Andrea says. “It could be their knees shaking, hands sweating, or heart pounding.”

Children are taught relaxation strategies, including deep breathing and muscle tension and relaxation.

“We emphasize that all kids and adults get scared and there will always be situations that make us anxious. But children can learn to talk themselves through these situations and cope better.”

















More on anxiety
Keys to parenting your anxious child, Katharina Manassis, 1996.
Available at or call the Bloorview library, 416 425 6220 ext. 3517.


Bloorview Kids Rehab | Bloorview’s Resource Centre