3 Ways to Help Your Child With Anxiety

A parent or caregiver can help an anxious child learn coping techniques for better anxiety management

 

All parents have experience dealing with an anxious child from time to time. But for children and teenagers that struggle with regular anxiety,  it can take on its own life and impact everyone in the family. So how can you as a parent help your child with anxiety?

 

3 Parenting tools to help your child with anxiety

1. Help your child feel safe

 

Anxiety shows up as a lot of different behaviors. From asking ‘what if‘ over and over, catastrophizing, refusals and avoidance or controling behavior and really rigid thinking, they can be difficult to handle.

But regardless of how your child’s anxiety appears, it stems from them not feeling safe. And related to this, the idea that they will not be okay. So if you want your child or teen to let go of their refusals, rigidity and control they must first feel safe in their environment.

So how do you do this?

Use baby steps to show your child success and address their fears.

 

Maybe your child throws a tantrum at the mere thought of going to school. No matter the object that causes anxiety the key is to start with something small. In this example, the first small step is simply driving past the school (make sure you tell your child this is what you are going to do ahead of time).

Once your child can drive past the school without resistance, add on driving into the parking lot area. Next have your child get out of the car and stand there for 5 counts. Slowly extend the amount of time they are standing outside of the car until it is about 20 seconds. Then you have your child walk to the steps of the school. And later to the door. And finally through the doors.

It takes time, practicing each step several times until your child can do the task without becoming overwhelmed. Don’t rush your child onto the next step too soon or they will pull back and you may have to begin again from an earlier step. But depending on your child’s anxiety level, they may go faster or slower with the steps. The key is to follow their lead when it comes to the pace.

And resist the urge to add on one more thing when they are successsful. Because moving the finish line on your child can make them resist trying again. So stick to doing what you say you are going to do. And when your child is able to do it, let them feel the success. Because that is what adds to their feeling of safety.

Along the way make sure you provide encouragement, letting them borrow your confidence. Also, talk to them about their progress as they continue to build up their stamina. It’s all about showing them what they can do and that they will be okay. The important thing is to keep them focused on trying, even if it is uncomfortable and slow.

You can also use positive language toward your child while acknowledging their anxiety. Say things like ‘I get it. This is really scary for you. And I believe you can handle this’. If you show your child you believe in them, they will start to believe in themselves.

 

2. Pull back on accommodations and practice coping instead

 

Almost every single parent who has a child that struggles with anxiety knows their child’s triggers. You know what situation is likely to make your child spin into a tantrum and so you make changes and accommodations to avoid these explosions. And you are quite loving to do it, but you may actually be making it harder for your child to learn how to cope effectively with their anxiety.

You might be wondering why accommodations are bad, after all they can save you from major tantrums. But what accommodations can do is make home or being with a parent feel like the only safe place. Which unintentionally increases a child’s anxiety.

So you can help your child or teen struggle less wiht anxiety and learn to cope better when you ditch the accommodations.

 

Does that mean you immediately throw out all accommodations?

Absolutely not! That would be a monumental meltdown no parent or child should have to experience.

 

But you should begin to think about how you can start scaling back your accommodations to make your child stretch their ability to handle their anxiety. This may be painful for all involved in the beginning, but if you can stick with it consistently for a few weeks it will have long term results.

To start, choose one very specific situation which causes your child to become filled with anxiety. A common one is needing to talk to someone they don’t know well (like a restaurant worker, sales person, librarian, etc.).

For example, if you would normally be the one to place your child’s order at a restaurant you give your child advanced warning you will no longer be doing this, that you believe they are capable of this task and even offer to have a few practice conversations with them, where you pretend to be the wait staff. Then take them to a restaurant and remind them it is their responsibility to order for themselves, if they choose not to order then they simply will have to wait to eat until they get home.

Will your child possibly go hungry for an hour? Yes, possibly. Will your child have a meltdown in public and make you uncomfortable and embarrassed? Yes, possibly. But keep your eye on the prize. You are stretching your child so they can succeed and function in life independent of you.

Reassure your child you believe they can do this. Tell them they will be okay even if they are scared and uncomfortable. And while you are at it, tell that to yourself.

 

3. Reframe your child’s anxiety

 

Anxiety is often viewed as a bad thing, something to be avoided or something you need to get rid of. But in reality, anxiety itself is not bad. It stems from a part of the brain that is trying to keep you safe, which is a good thing if you are actually in a situation where you could be in danger.

This means “getting rid” of anxiety is not likely, especially in a child or teen that tends to have a lot of anxiety. So instead you must reframe how your child views their anxiety. Because that is the first step to learning how to manage anxiety.

To do this, start by talking to your child about worry’s “job”. When talking to kids, it can be helpful to give worry a persona, turn it into a character (yes, this even works for teens). Have your child picture their anxiety in their head or even draw it out on paper. Explain how worry’s job is to keep them safe and to help point out when things don’t seem safe.

Next, explain to your child that sometimes worry gets overexcited and starts pointing to everything and saying it is a danger, but that your child has the power to help keep worry from getting too carried away.

Then have your child practice how to talk to their worry. Have them tell worry ‘it’s not that bad, I can handle this’ or ‘I know you are scared, but I know I can do this’ or even ‘I know you are trying to help, but I am going to be fine’.

Two things are at work here when your child gives their anxiety a persona.

One is your child or teen is learning how to recognize their worry is sometimes not accurate and how to try to reset themselves.

The second is that research shows ‘I statements’ and positive affirmations can have a significant effect on attitudes, actions and behaviors.

 

Final thoughts on how to help your child with anxiety

 

Your child’s anxiety can feel overwhelming to both you and your child. And while you may not be able to get rid of your child’s anxiety, you can take significant steps to lessen the impact of anxiety in their lives. And that should be your ultimate goal; to help your child learn how to manage their anxiety.

Now it’s time for action! Pick one of the above tools and commit to using it with your child consistently for the next 4 weeks and see the impact it can have on your child’s anxiety.

If you run into roadblocks or need further help implementing these strategies, reach out for a  free 30 minute consultation and I will tweak things to get you and your child back on track.

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