Anxiety runs rampant in our culture today. We all struggle with anxiety. Heck, even our anxiety has anxiety. In fact, 40 million American adults, as well as 1 in 8 children, suffer from anxiety. However unpleasant as it can be for us to experience intense worry as adults, it is especially difficult to watch our children struggle with it. We feel helpless as we watch them in a downward spiral. In truth, parenting a child with anxiety can be a real challenge. Perhaps one of the toughest you will ever have to go through.
But instead of getting even more anxiety over your child’s anxiety, let’s take a look at the systems we can put in place. There are some very practical and effective ways to help calm your little ones when they are faced with panic and overactive nerves. Anxiety comes in different forms and can be generalized, or specific. OCD and social anxiety are both examples of common anxieties that plague children and adults alike. Whatever the type, the first step is to start to identify the signs of onset anxiety and the triggers that cause it within your child.
How to Help a Child with Anxiety
If you have an anxious child, chances are, you have to become an expert observer. You are constantly taking note of situations that your child takes part in that induce anxiety. Doing this helps us pay close attention to their feelings and what triggers these feelings. Take these feelings seriously when they express any concerns or negative emotions.
Are they asking to stay home from school because they’re not feeling well again? Do they have a hard time getting to sleep or are they not able to sleep through the night? Maybe they start expressing worry about attending a friend’s birthday party or even worse, start saying they don’t want to go. Or, think about it like this: Are you afraid of the dark sometimes (still) too? Well, so is your 7-year-old. Do thoughts of spiders, snakes or rodents make your skin crawl with the heeby-jeebies?
Picture how much louder these thoughts might be in your tiny human. These and other like responses are signs that your kid is not having an easy time adjusting to seemingly “normal” activities and daily life.
Freeing your Child From Anxiety
There are many types of anxiety. There’s no rulebook I can give you on your child’s anxiety because I don’t know what’s causing it. I can say this: Anxiety is real and anxiety can be debilitating. If your teenager is struggling with anxiety or even your elementary school child, find out the root cause. Here are some tips on how to deal with child anxiety:
- Stay calm when your child becomes anxious about a situation or event. Be the stable tree trunk amidst the wind. Remember your child is watching you for signs of “how to be” as a human being. You are their first model for behavior and if you’re overtly panicked, your child is going to panic too. Try to stay calm in order to minimize the sense of conflict about an occurrence.
- Praise your child and help them build up their self-confidence/inner warrior! This can be in the form of acknowledging over and over- as consistency is key with kids- a job well-done- “just look at what a fabulous artist you are! I LOVE the painting you did for Ms. Tamlin’s class.” Make sure you’re being honest though. When children feel you being overly complimentary, they start to not trust your compliments.
- Avoid punishing your kid for mistakes or falling behind with goals – mistakes are okay, that’s how we learn. If your child is too afraid to make a mistake, chances are they won’t act or participate, in fear of the judgment or punishment that might come. Performance anxiety, or fear of making a mistake, can affect your child’s ability to learn and general ability to direct themselves.
- Maintain a normal routine, while being flexible. Consistency and routine are key in establishing a sense of security for littles, especially for a worried child. This lets them know what to expect, and ultimately TRUST you to do what you say you will, knowing that they are safe. This translates into greater self-esteem in childhood and beyond and won’t have them struggling so much with self-doubt. Remember to be amenable to accommodations your child might need during stressful periods or extenuating circumstances.
- Spend time in the outdoors. Confined spaces can tend to make us feel cooped up with overactive minds running rampant, our thoughts turning over on themselves. A simple walk outside or a trip to the beach could bring quick relief and a sense of openness to quiet any nagging thoughts your child might be facing.
While anxiety in children can be a painful thing to witness, the good news is that it is a sign of intelligence. Provided with the proper support, hopefully, your child will be able to transition through these more difficult emotions and embrace their imaginative, active minds!
Finding activities that allow them to channel obsessive thoughts about a situation can help reduce anxiety and allow you to bond with your child too. For more inspiration and motherly support, sign up for the Real Mom Daily Mom’bassador program.