Our children are no different than us when it comes to stress and anxiety. As much as we hope our children never go through situations that provoke these feelings, the reality is that things happen that can cause our children to experience anxiety and stress.
The Child Mind Institute provides a helpful description about anxiety and how and why it can present itself in the lives of our children, explaining that “Children with anxiety disorders are overwhelmed by feelings of intense fear or worry that are out of proportion to the situation or thing that triggers them. These emotional fears can be focused on separating from parents, physical illness, performing poorly, or embarrassing themselves. Or they can be attached to specific things, like dogs or insects or bridges”. (Childmind.org)
When our children become stressed or anxious, it is important for us as parents to have some tools in our toolbox to support our children in a healthy and productive way. In order to do this, it is important that we look at our own stress and anxiety and our reactions to these feelings and emotions. How does anxiety show up in your life? What do you do to alleviate the stressful feelings and anxiety that you experience?
Knowing how you deal with stress and anxiety is important. You are the model for your children.
When it comes to supporting our children, the first step is recognizing those moments when they are anxious and knowing how to respond in a way that shows support and compassion. It is important that our children know that we are here to support them, guide them and help them in any way we can.
As parents, we are so often the first to notice when our child is “off”, or seems overwhelmed and anxious. When we see our child experiencing something that might need attention, it is important that we focus on how we can help him/her, as opposed to trying to minimize or shut down whatever they might be experiencing.
Here are a few statements to avoid. These actually minimize your child’s feelings and can encourage shutting down the behavior.
- Just get over it!
- Is this really worth worrying about?
- Just calm down! Stop worrying!
I know in my own childhood, I experienced moments where instead of the support I needed, I was met with these statements, and it did not make me feel any better. In fact, it made me mad most of the time.
As Robert Frost says, “The best way out is always through”, we must move through our feelings in order to get to the other side. Helping our children find productive means to process the anxiety and stress they are feeling is the best way to help them through these experiences. Our kids need to know that we are willing to listen to them and understand what they are experiencing, the source of their anxiety and that we see their need for help and support. It is important for our children to see us as an ally, willing to provide strategies, tools, or outside help if needed.
Here are a few tips to help you:
- Acknowledge that your child is anxious and acknowledge what is causing anxiety. Be understanding and compassionate. Don’t take on the anxiety as your own. Our children’s emotions and stress are never ours to take on. Just empathize, showing them that you get it. We don’t want to add fuel to the existing fire with our own fears and emotions, which our children will pick up on.
- Showing up as our best for our children means being in a place of neutrality, compassion and understanding. It means listening and acknowledging without making their feelings worse. It means helping our children with practical tools to move through their feelings.
- Keep in mind that behavior is a form of communication. You might see your child behaving differently, perhaps not in an “appropriate” way because of the existing anxiety that is causing them stress and triggering them. They may not be able to verbalize this, so their behavior is “speaking” for them. Pay attention to what is beneath the behavior.
Reflect on what your anxiety and stress look like in your life. How do you react when you feel anxiety? Our children are sponges and see our behaviors even when we do not realize it.
Often, the things that we witness with them and in them are things we need to examine in ourselves, as well. This is how we can continue to show up as our best selves for our children, always looking inward to do a self-examination.
As you work with your children, you can teach them fantastic coping skills that they can use even when they are not with you. These are tools for their toolbox, and yours, too.
- Breathing exercises can help calm your child down quickly. Once they are calm and their body is relaxed, you can continue to figure out the source of their anxiety, and proceed accordingly.
- Journaling or drawling – processing feelings can be incredibly beneficial. By writing or drawing about their feelings, both you and your child can gain valuable insight into the situation.
- Self-talk – reframe the way you are talking to yourself about the situation, and you may see it in a different light.
- Get enough sleep and be sure to eat well. Keeping our bodies in good shape helps us to be able to stay on top of our feelings and emotions.
- Think about the worst that could happen – talk about it. Once you or your child acknowledges the worst-case scenario, oftentimes you realize that it isn’t that bad after all, or that you are equipped to handle even the worst situations.
- How does worrying serve you? Is it worth worrying about a potential outcome or situation that has not happened yet?
- Look at the facts to see how they support your worries – oftentimes, you realize your worry didn’t need to be a worry at all.
What do you need to help guide and support you in your parenting process?
I am here to help. Join my free private Facebook Group for ongoing support: https://www.facebook.com/groups/138844930006014/?source_id=253801414793077
Anxiety Disorders in Children: Social Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://childmind.org/topics/disorders/anxiety-disorders/
Join my email list for more tips and ideas on parenting: http://eepurl.com/dqgrRP
Conscious Parents, have you checked out my podcast chockfull of parenting tips? I would love to invite you to listen. It is a great way to remind us of so many things that are important as we raise our beautiful children.