By Alana Gregg, MS
One of the hardest things in life to watch our kids struggle. We so badly want to take away their pain that sometimes we end up crippling them more than helping them. It may seem like we are protecting them when we let them avoid the thing they are afraid of. “Sure, you don’t have to go to school or lacrosse practice today.” In the moment, it immediately decreases their anxiety because the stressor is suddenly taken away. But in the long run, it will make things harder. Unfortunately, when it comes to anxiety, the only way to decrease it is to struggle through it.
Here are 8 ways to support your anxious kid:
1. Set a realistic goal
The goal when you are dealing with anxiety is not to make it go away or find a quick fix so they suddenly feel better. The goal is actually to find a way to deal with it so it doesn’t keep you from doing things. The more we face anxiety, the less power it will have over us.
2. Don’t make promises you can’t keep
We have a natural tendency to promise our kids that everything will be fine. As much as we want to protect our kids, it is not possible to keep them from every bad outcome. We need to acknowledge that sometimes bad things do happen. We can’t protect our kids forever from that reality as much as we want to. But we can help them choose to believe that most of the time things work out ok and they are capable of handling hard things. And if it doesn’t work out, we will be there with them to help them deal with it.
3. Validate their feelings
Kids need to know that being afraid or anxious is normal. We all have moments we feel that way. So belittling them or telling them they shouldn’t be feeling that way is not helpful. When kids don’t have a healthy outlet for their feelings, their emotions become bigger and do more damage. If you validate their feelings, you are not agreeing with them, you are helping them know you understand.
4. Don’t reinforce their fears
Sometimes we amplify our kids anxiety without meaning to. We do this with our body posture, tone of voice, and by what we say. Kids are very observant. They pick up on our tension and the fear in our voice when we are anxious too. Don’t ask leading questions that imply this is something to worry about and do your best to keep your own anxiety in check.
5. Share with them that you struggle too
You may be prone to anxiety too so you understand what your child is feeling. But even if you don’t, we can all remember a time when we felt afraid or unsure. Drawing on those experiences can help you put yourself in their shoes. This is important when we begin to lose our patience or feel frustrated (which is absolutely normal!). For instance, you could say, “I get anxious when I have to try something new too.” Normalizing your child’s feelings and letting them see you struggle is a great way to ease their anxiety and help them know they are not alone. You are also modeling for them healthy ways to deal with anxiety. For instance, you could say to them, “I’m feeling nervous about my work meeting. I’m gonna go in a little early so I have time to do some breathing to calm myself down.”
6. Don’t avoid what’s making them anxious
It is the hardest thing as a parent to see our kids in pain. It is often our first instinct to want to swoop in and make it better. But the more we allow our kids to avoid those hard things, the more we are teaching them that they need to always stay where it is comfortable to be ok. In the short run, it works because they feel better immediately. But in the long run, we need to encourage them to tolerate those uncomfortable feelings or else they will stay stuck.
7. Don’t tell them something hard is coming too soon
It’s important we are upfront with our kids so they know they can trust us. But try not to give them too much time to anticipate that hard thing so they have less time to be anxious. For instance, think about telling your child the night before or in the morning they have to go to the dentist instead of the week before. They will have time to process how they are feeling and how they will handle it but they will have less time to anticipate it and amp themselves up.
8. Help them think through how to handle it if their anxious thought came true
It is important to talk to our kids about what they are afraid of and help prepare them if it did. For instance, if your child’s afraid of being sick in school, create a plan with them. They can drink water and eat their cough drops, ask the teacher for help, go to the nurse, or have the nurse call a parent. Having a plan will decrease their anxiety.
If you or your child are struggling with anxiety right now, please reach out for help. Our team offers anxiety counseling, trauma counseling, Christian counseling, addictions counseling, online counseling in Pennsylvania, online counseling in Colorado and online counseling in North Carolina. for individuals and families who need support. Contact us today.