Helping children win over worry and alleviate their anxiety
By Sherry Allen, MA, LPC Intern
Helping Your Child Experience and React to Worry and Anxiety in Healthy and Beneficial Ways is Absolutely Possible…
Each day in my office, I see adults, adolescents, and children face their personal experiences with worry (primarily a brain process) and anxiety (primarily a brain and body process).
The discomfort and unwanted interference that worry and anxiety inject into daily lives is growing at a rapid pace AND the age at which they are affecting our children’s lives is becoming younger and younger. Helping our children navigate through anxiety can understandably seem overwhelming. Here is the good news: Research shows us that the brain is malleable at all ages. A child’s brain can change and adapt. Making a few simple shifts in thinking and behavior often has a profound effect on personal anxiety tolerances. This is great news for anxious children and their families!
Perfect Parenting is Impossible…
The role parents play in cultivating positive change cannot be underestimated. Before you stop reading… please understand, no parent pressure intended and no blame game here! I have not met a perfect parent and I profess withoutany hesitation that I am not a perfect parent. I can say, that my experiences of parenting my now young adult children, my work as a professional counselor, and my experiences as an educator have filled my toolbox. I am thrilled to share proven research based strategies and techniques that help children win over worry!
Helping Children “Boss” Worry Instead of Worry “Bossing” Them
#1 One of the most powerful strategies that alleviates a child’s worry is anxious parents who change their own anxious behaviors. Children copy behavior…our accents, gestures, even our world views-from favorite sports teams to political beliefs. As parents, we can alleviate anxiety by making our homes a safe place where mistakes are a part of learning and growing and perfection is not the standard to achieve.
#2 Recognizing and shifting catastrophic language is very helpful in curtailing a child’s anxiety. Of course as parents we minimize risks and dangers. It is appropriate to say, “It is safest to wear a helmet when bike riding.”” However, by adding the following explanation with very detailed and unnecessary information, encourages worry… “Do you want to know what happens to kids who don’t wear helmets, just let me tell you.” Although often unintentional, offering a fear-based attitude gives your child the message to not take anyappropriate risks.
#3 Simple changes in wording or phrasing can help to promote problem solving and demote freaking out! When a parent overreacts, children learn the same behavior. We all experience frustrations and our reactions may not always be gold star quality. Building an awareness of the impact of our words and actions is an effective place to start. Here is some language that may seem strange at first…but it works. Try saying when frustrated, “I am really upset/worried about this. I’m going to stop for a minute. Any ideas on what we should do?” or “That is NOT a good idea. Can you think of why I might say that?”
#4 Calm anxiety by avoiding absolute certainty. Often, children who worry will ask questions over and over again. It may be about a new teacher, stormy weather, dentist visits, etc. Always answering specific questions does offer short term solutions. Unfortunately, constant certainty encourages worry to show up each time uncertainty prevails. Try giving your child opportunities to brave unfamiliar territory… “I can hear you are worried about the weather. I wonder what/how you can work through that by thinking about what has been helpful when staying safe in other storms?” or “What do I do when I walk into the school?” Instead of providing an obvious answer, say, “Let’s figure that out.” Problem solving is a critical skill that can be learned very successfully when modeled by parent(s).
#5 Learning to minimize anxiety can be fun! Ask your child if anything unexpected happened during their day. This helps normalize unpredictability and supports flexibility. Worry thrives on certainty and predictability. So let’s not give it what it wants! Another fun activity is to let your child help you plan a meal from scratch or to try cooking a new recipe without detailed instructions. It may or may not be a complete success. What is learned is that it is going to be ok even when what we plan does not end in perfection. What a valuable lesson this is!
If you and your child are navigating through worry, and you would like to learn more about how anxiety works and what to do when it shows up, let’s connect. To schedule an appointment, call 940.390.977 (cell) / 940.222.8552 (office)