Helping an anxious child

Psychologist & Author David Palmiter, PhD, shares advice for parents on the best way to help your anxious child be calm and overcome their anxious temperament
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Helping an anxious child

Many parents have a child that seems to be too fearful or anxious or worried and they wonder what to do. First of all, I'd say you're in a big club. This is the number 1 problem the kids suffering, an anxious temperament. It isn't necessarily same thing as an anxiety disorder, it's just an anxious temperament. There's a couple of things, first we want to avoid excessive reassurances. Let's say I walk in the studio today and you guys told me this is a great studio, state of the art and by the way don't worry about the roof collapsing on you, it's fine. Well, I'm going to start looking up at the roof and wondering why are they reassuring me. A reassurance says there's something to be reassured about. It's like danger, danger watch out, freak out now. So I don't want excessive reassurances. I also want to avoid avoidance. This thing, anxiety makes someone want to avoid thing that's the main symptom expression. So I asked, this thing my kids afraid of is it developmentally appropriate? If it is developmentally appropriate, going on a school bus, joining a new soccer team, raising their hand in class. Then I want to kindly and warmly insist upon that exposure. Once they're exposed, their anxietiy is going to go away. It does naturally over time. I also can teach my kid relaxing, belly breathings. Pretend that your lung is in your belly instead of your chest, we call diaphragmatic breathing, very powerful tool. Turn your muscles into a cooked piece of pasta instead of a non-cook piece of pasta. The softer more relax muscles are the more anxieties flush from my body. I can also - that thing my kid might be afraid of - I can also set a step-wise exposure to it. Maybe take a trip to the preschool a week before the preschool starts. Meet the preschool teacher would be an example. Instead of just jumping into the lake putting a leg in then the hip then stomach and so forth. But avoiding and avoidance is key. If I find those strategies don't work, I want to seek a mental health professional this is a highly treatable problem. It's one of my favorite things to treat because kids are often in high distress and they're much better a few weeks later and everybody is through about it.

Psychologist & Author David Palmiter, PhD, shares advice for parents on the best way to help your anxious child be calm and overcome their anxious temperament


Expert Bio

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David Palmiter, PhD, ABPP

Psychologist & Author

Dr. David Palmiter is a professor of Psychology and Counseling at Marywood University. He is a practicing and board-certified clinical psychologist, a past president of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the author of over three dozen publications, including two books on promoting resilience in youth, a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (true of < 6% of psychologists), the American Academy of Clinical Psychology and the Pennsylvania Psychological Association in youth. He has also given hundreds of workshops on family issues for organizations such as The Navy SEAL Foundation, The Master Therapist Series at the University of Connecticut, The American Psychological Association and the McGraw-Hill Financial Group and completed hundreds of media projects for outlets such as CNN, The New York Times, US News and World Report and the Wall Street Journal. David is also a dad of three (two studying at Cornell University and one still in high school) and husband of 27 years to Dr. Lia Richards-Palmiter. A central aspect of his professional mission is to put air under the wings of parents as they try to raise happy and resilient children and teens.

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