A Guest Post from Julie Sams, MA, LPC
Anxiety stems from your child’s reaction to stress, and according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America affects one in every 8th child. From the child who is deeply afraid of bees to the child who will not leave their home out of fear, anxiety is a real condition that can be debilitating. No matter what the level of anxiety, or what causes it, it is so hard to watch your child miss out on things you know they should enjoy.
Excessive worry, sleep problems, irrational fears, avoidance of social situations, physical complaints such as headache or stomach aches, biting nails or pulling hair out, and/or extreme irritability are all indications your child may be struggling with anxiety. During my years guiding children through mastering excessive worry and anxiety, I’ve found these strategies can help parents support their kids the most.
1 – Don’t feel pressure to be just like everyone else! Don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses. Embrace your child’s uniqueness! Make sure they know you accept them for who they are and they feel unconditionally loved by you. Every child has their own unique strengths, gifts, and talents. Don’t even try to have your child be “just like everyone else”. The minute you feel your thoughts slipping into saying “why can’t she be normal like (whoever)”, immediately stop yourself and tell yourself, “I love her and all of her uniqueness!”.
2 – Problem solve and show a spirit of support not force! The minute you convey the attitude, “Just suck it up and get in there!,” your child will shut down. Instead, say, “I know it’s hard to go, but you can do it and I’m going to help you!” Talk to school staff ahead of time and let them know your child is anxious and needs support. They can meet your child at the car or at the classroom door, show them around, introduce them to others, and tell them what to expect. Have fidget toys they carry with them (i.e., putty), use a bracelet with inspirational words or a meditation app, listen to music with earbuds, or carpool with a friend. Keep trying new things to help them feel less anxious and reassure them you are there to help.
3 – Share your concerns with others and encourage your child to talk to close friends. Don’t feel like anxiety is a family secret that you can’t share with others. You and your child need support, and you will be surprised how many others are struggling with similar concerns once you talk about it. Reach out to close friends and encourage your child to do the same!
4 – Address your own and other family members anxiety. You’d better believe your child picks up on your anxiety. Kids with anxiety are typically very sensitive to the emotions of others and will tune-in to how you and other family members are feeling. Do whatever it takes to deal with your own and family members’ anxiety so progress will happen more quickly. It is never fair to isolate one family member and point fingers at them as “the problem.” Each member of a family should identify areas they want to improve, set attainable goals, and put forth effort to change.
5 – Have kids practice yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. Following a yoga class I taught, a student said, “I never knew what to do to handle stress, now I do!” Another teen who was feeling stressed almost fell asleep as I played meditation music on iTunes. Have your child start and end each day with 5 minutes of meditation by listening to music or a meditation app, sitting quietly and focusing on their breathing. Have them join a yoga class or watch yoga videos, and practice at least 3 times a week. These mindfulness practices will teach them to focus on the present moment and quiet their anxious thoughts.
6 – Plan ahead for the worst case scenario! When anxiety strikes, your child is likely to imagine the worst case scenario of future events and new situations. Help them by letting them know specifics. If they are going to camp, research the city, cabins, activities planned, menu, and number of leaders and campers. Find pictures of places they are planning to attend and let them ask plenty of questions. Discuss details, answer questions, practice, and plan.
Kids with anxiety can change the world if they are taught strategies to help them overcome their anxious minds! As frustrating as it can be to have an anxious child, walk alongside them in their life journey. Our society encourages everyone to fall in line and behave just like everyone else. Well, your child is extraordinary! Guide them on their own path of individuality!
About the Author
Childhood anxiety expert, Julie Sams, is a Licensed Professional Counselor with over 16 years experience treating anxiety disorders in her Wake Forest, NC private practice, Bowman Family Services. Julie understands the dangers of over-thinking and strives to help others as a therapist, yoga instructor, and mindfulness/meditation trainer. For more tips, join her Facebook group:Parents and Kids with Anxiety .