Do you have an anxious child? Have you been wondering how to best help them? Val Mullally, parenting expert and author, shares 5 Practical Tips to Help Overcome Anxiety in Kids:
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She’s hardly more than three, walking hand in hand with her father in the park. Suddenly she lets out a shriek and stops. Her wail stops her father.
His eyes follow her fixed stare at her boots. There is a slight spattering of mud on them!
‘Uuuuh –oooooh,’ the child moans.
‘That’s nothing. It’s just a bit of mud on your boots,’ her dad soothes. ‘It’s your jacket I’d be worried about.’
In a few words her father first eases his daughter’s anxiety but then weaves it into a tighter knot. Now she’s worrying about her coat! A few inadvertent words can impose worry on our children.
Anxiety can grow to be a monster that chokes our children. The Scrivener dictionary states the word ‘anxious’ is from Latin ‘anxius’ (from angere ‘to choke’). Your child’s anxiety may be choking her of the joy of living well; it may be choking her of exploring the wonderful world around her, of making new friends, of enjoying herself in this moment.
We live in a world that teaches us and teaches our children to worry. Our consumer culture wants us to believe, ‘You’re not pretty enough, clever enough, organized enough, good enough, safe enough.’
Every time the world around us gets us to buy into a ‘not enough’ message we’re buying in to anxiety and into buying products.
We live in a society that feeds on anxiety. If we don’t want to raise children who are consumed by anxiety we need to have a conscious antidote.
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So what can you do to help overcome your child’s anxiety?
If you are concerned about your child’s anxiety; if you want to figure out how to help your child overcome anxiety, here are five keys that can help raise your child’s emotional intelligence.
#1. Key One: Name the Anxious Emotion
Anxiety doesn’t go away because we say, ‘Don’t worry’.
It’s more helpful to name the emotion your child is experiencing.
‘You’re worried about the mud on your boots.’
‘Sometimes you feel anxious when you get dirt on your clothes.’
When you name her emotion, you ‘normalise’ it. She will sense that others must experience this too if it can be named.
When she can name the emotion she can claim it – ‘Yes, that’s what I’m feeling’. Then she can tame it. She can take control of the emotion rather than it taking control of her.
#2. Key Two: ‘Normalise’ Her Emotional Reaction.
Our feelings are never wrong; it’s what we do with them that counts. Everyone feels anxious sometimes. Anxiety is not ‘wrong’.
In fact, anxiety is an important emotion to keep us safe. It makes us more alert and aware in potentially dangerous situations. How long would a rabbit survive if it were not timid? (‘Timid’ is a word that describes anxious behaviour).
There is a time and a place for ‘anxious’.
#3. Key Three: Help Your Child To ‘Tame’ Her Anxiety
To live well, your child needs to experience anxiety as an occasional emotion that guides her to keep safe. (And of course this is equally important for boys too!) She needs to be in charge of the emotion, to ‘tame’ it – rather than the emotion being in charge of her.
When the emotion is strong, give reassurance that you are there to keep her safe, and help her to learn to breath deep slow breathes when she feels anxious. At a time after the event, once she is calm again and you sense it is a ‘snuggle’ time, listen to what made her feel anxious and ask what can help her to feel safe when she feels anxious.
Having a plan to deal with anxiety before it overwhelms can lessen future anxiety attacks.
With younger children who can’t yet verbally process at this level find a helpful storybook or create your own story, to help your child process anxiety. For example, try reading your child ‘Owl Babies’ by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson if she is anxious about being away from you. (Always, of course, ensure she IS safe, emotionally and psychologically when she is apart from you).
#4. Key Four: Support Your Child To Reassure Her Anxiety
Become more aware of how the emotion of Anxiety can be helpful.
Have you seen the film, ‘Inside Out’? It’s a great film to watch with slightly older children but also worth watching yourself to think about how emotions, including anxiety (fear), play a vital role in our lives. Click the image below to watch a clip from the movie:
The big question is, ‘What is my anxiety telling me?’ Is there something I need to do to keep safe here?’
When we as parents choose to dialogue with anxiety rather than ignoring it or letting it dictate, we’ll develop insights to help our children to deal with their anxiety.
#5. Key Five: Contain Your Own Anxiety
Emotions are contagious. If you don’t contain your anxiety it’s likely to infect your children.
When parents become over-anxious then we sometimes try to take power over what is not ours to take power over. We start telling our children what they must and mustn’t do, what they should or shouldn’t think, what they should or shouldn’t feel. We get in the way of them experiencing their own lives for themselves. Our contagious anxiety can pollute their well-being.
It’s essential for your children’s well-being to deal with our own anxiety so when you feel anxious, check out what’s going on for you, rather than letting your anxiety ooze into your children’s lives. If you recognise that your anxiety is getting in the way of being the parent your child needs you to be, why not book a meeting with a parent coach, who is trained to help you create happier family.
For more tips on dealing with children’s anxiety, see Val Mullally’s tips for helping an anxious child at Halloween. You might also find her article on 7 useful tips on how to build self esteem in your child helpful. Visit Val’s website for more help and tips.
What other ways have you find helpful to support your child to deal with anxiety? Share your experience in the comments below.