It can be incredibly difficult to be the parent of an anxious child. That’s because children experience anxiety just as intensely and poignantly as adults do, and they can be even more difficult to calm.
If you are the parent of an anxious child, you probably understand completely what it is like to feel helpless and powerless to comfort your child.
You may have tried many different coping mechanisms over the years, and you may have even found a handful that are successful. Anxiety, however, persists despite your best efforts to combat it.
The best thing you can do for your child if they are struggling with anxiety is to provide constructive, meaningful support.
Unsure of how to do this? Keep reading!
Avoiding the “Parental Anxiety Cycle”
Anxiety is cyclical in nature. Often, when we are anxious about something, we tend to avoid or dread that thing. However, the avoidance and the negative feelings only feed the anxiety, and we end up feeling worse.
As a parent, you need to be careful to not perpetuate your child’s anxiety.
You obviously love your child, and you want to see them safe and at peace. The problem with this desire, however, is that you may end up subconsciously shielding your child from everything that triggers their anxiety. As the cycle moves onward, your well-meaning protection actually increases your child’s worry.
In order to avoid this “parental anxiety cycle,” you have to approach your child’s anxieties with respect while still remaining in control. Your goal is to help your child learn to manage their anxiety in a healthy, realistic way.
You can do that by using the following techniques:
Set a good example
Quite often, anxious children also have anxious parents.
Your children are incredibly perceptive, and they will pick up small tendencies and habits that you subtly teach them. One of the best ways you can support your anxious child is by modeling healthier, more effective ways of coping.
Teach your child that it is ok to accept their anxiety and that they do not have to hide from it. You can even practice healthy coping mechanisms together such as deep breathing, exercising, reading, dancing, or playing with a family pet.
Don’t reinforce negative behaviors
As discussed above, anxiety tends to be very cyclical. If your child repeatedly feels anxious about the same handful of stressors or triggers, they will probably repeatedly react in the same handful of ways.
Many of your child’s reactions to anxiety are likely negative. If you reinforce these behaviors and encourage them, your children will never learn to adopt healthier ways of coping.
Instead, you should discourage behavior such as temper tantrums and physical reactions like hitting, biting, or kicking. Express to your child that these behaviors are not acceptable and work together to replace them with better alternatives.
Have a plan
So many of our anxieties stem from a fear of the unknown. Anxiety works the same way with children. Your child may be feeling anxious about certain potential events or triggers, so a healthy way to support your child is to talk through those scenarios with them.
For example, your child might be afraid of getting lost while walking home from school or of not being able to fall back asleep after a nightmare. You can help reduce your child’s anxiety by having an emergency game plan in case these situations were to happen.
Talk through the possible outcomes with your child, and set up a specific action plan step-by-step. It may even be helpful to write the plan down and give a copy to your child.
Keep your expectations realistic
No matter how much you love your child, do not make promises to them that you cannot keep. If your child is anxious about an upcoming school play, birthday party, or another event, try to keep your expectations simple and realistic.
You cannot promise your child that they will have fun or that nothing will go wrong. Instead, tell them that you love them, that you are proud of them, and that you only expect them to try hard and do their best. Reassure your child that they will be ok and that their anticipation is probably going to be worse than the actual event.
Love your child through the anxiety, but do not promise a perfect outcome.
The next time your child is feeling particularly anxious, try one or more of these support techniques. And if you would like additional help with teaching your child how to deal with their anxiety, please feel free to contact me.