Another day, another fear. Spiders, making a mistake on a math test, wearing the wrong socks.
If you live with a child who suffers from anxiety, you know this all too well. Some days it feels exhausting. Some days you feel like yelling, “IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL! GET OVER IT!” Even though you know it’s not that easy.
You love your child, you just don’t want them to feel anxious. You just wish there was more you could do to help.
Here are some tips for loving your anxious child
(I know you don’t want to hear this, but we have to start with you.)
- Find Support – Parenting an anxious child can be isolating, frustrating and sad. It’s heartbreaking to watch your child struggle. I know reaching out is not easy, but you may be surprised how many other parents are in the same situation! (Post this article on your Facebook page with the question, “can anyone relate to this?!?” If anyone responds, reach out and see how you can support each other.)
- Get Help For Yourself – If you struggle with your own anxiety, read a book (Here’s a great one by Tamar Chansky) or meet with a therapist. You cannot be the parent your child needs you to be if your own anxiety is clouding your vision.
(ok…on to your kids)
- Set Limits – Children feel more secure knowing that boundaries are in place. Your child may push back or test the limits or feel more anxious temporarily. Instead of giving in, work together to find skills or strategies to feel calm within these boundaries.
- Name the Anxiety – Your child feels anxious, they are not Anxiety. When the worries surface, give them a name, “Oh no, it looks like Mr. WorryPants is back trying to get you all worked up about germs again.”
- Give them the Skills – Help your child feel more confident by building up their coping and calming skills. Start with deep breathing, then move beyond deep breathing into things like journaling, getting fresh air and exercise or using art.
- Listen – It’s tempting to jump in and offer a solution, distraction or minimize their experience. Sit quietly or use non-verbals to let your child know that you’re listening. Paraphrase what they’re saying to make sure you understand.
- Feel Feelings Together – Telling an anxious child to “calm down” is the least effective way to get them to settle down. Instead, offer to be with them as they experience the uncomfortable feeling and try some techniques for calming their body or mind.
- Focus on Non-Anxious Traits – Build your child’s self-confidence by mentioning times when they are confident, brave, thoughtful, imaginative or creative. Talk about good decisions they made or positive risks they took or explored.
- Offer Unconditional Love – Make sure your child knows that you love them when they are calm and when they are feeling worried or anxious. Let them know that you are their biggest supporter as they battle the worried thoughts and when they feel defeated by them.
How About You?
What makes it hard to live with your anxious child? What ways have you found to connect with them and “love them through” this challenge?