Psychiatrist shares tips to help anxious children

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Thanks to smartphones and other technology, children are constantly bombarded by information.
Dangers far away are now right at their fingertips. That's one reason Tyrone family psychiatrist Dr. Suvrat Bhargave says he sees a lot of anxious kids and teenagers, and experts estimate up to 10 percent of youngers may be dealing with an anxiety disorder.

Dr. Bhargave says he sees two common types of anxiety in children. The first is separation or safety anxiety.

"Will I be okay, if you're not around," Bhargave says children with this type of anxiety may ask. "'Will you be okay if I'm not around?'  And, some kids have figured out specific safety fears. So, when it rains, they're automatically thinking about tornados and hurricanes.  Some kids think about death, dying, illness."

Another type of anxiety in kids is performance anxiety.

"And performance anxiety is the fear of being judged, or what will people think, or the fear of embarrassment or failure," Bhargave says.

The best thing parents can do to help an anxious child, he says, is to teach him or her how to recognize the difference between a real threat, that requires action right now, and a false alarm.

"The example I like to use is if I'm about to cross the street, and the alarm is, 'You should look both ways!"  Look, I should look both ways," Bhargave says.  "But if I am walking in a wide open pasture and the alarm goes off and says, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, car coming,' I need to be able to challenge that thought and say, 'There is nothing happening right now. This is a false alarm.  Anxiety is a false alarm.'"

As children get better at recognizing when they're feeling anxious, Bhargave says, parents can teach them techniques to calm themselves. Deep breathing, he says, can be very effective.
He recommends parents talk children through how to slow and deepen their breathing.
Ask them to pick two words, he says, one they can say as they inhale, the other as they exhale.

"So, it can be 'got-this, peace-out, love-you, I-am,'" Bhargave says.  "The reason you use the same two words every time, is, this is like conditioning your mind. So that, over time, when they hear that very first word, they already know, 'That's what we're doing,' and their mind starts to calm down."

Bhargave says if your child seems to be having frequent or severe anxiety, or if the anxiety seems to be affecting the child's quality of life, talk to your pediatrician. Children with anxiety may benefit from a form of talk therapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy or medication to ease anxiety. A recent Yale University study found training parents may also help reduce anxiety in children.