Do you have an anxious child? It is sometimes hard to make sense of their anxiety and a parent can feel powerless on how to respond when a child becomes overwhelmed with anxiety. In this article, I will give 7 valuable insights on how to calm anxiety in your child, based on my experience as a parenting coach.
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Anxiety can become All-consuming
Anxiety is Normal
Anxiety is not X (WRONG!)
Anxiety is Interesting.
Anxiety is Organic
Anxiety is Understandable.
Anxiety is Systemic
Let’s look at each of these insights in turn:
Anxiety can become All-consuming if it’s left to grow unattended.
In this Spring season I’m watching the nettles and briars grow overnight and smother the other plants around them. That’s what can happen if we leave Anxiety unchecked. It can become rampant – taking over and multiplying in a way that chokes our healthy processing of our thoughts and feelings, and choking our interactions and behaviours. So here are a few pointers to help your child cope with anxiety.
Anxiety is Normal.
We need to help our children to realise that anxiety is normal – just another feeling that is part of the ebb and flow of our daily lives, that every person experiences in some situations. We help our children to live with their experiences when we recognise and name their emotions. At times when the child is obviously anxious, it can be helpful to name the emotion:
“You’re feeling anxious?”
When you calmly and empathetically name the anxiety it helps your child to know that this is normal. And if it’s normal it’s not something to fear.
Anxiety is not X (not wrong!)
Our feelings are never wrong – it’s what we do with them that counts. We need to help our children to realise that, although anxiety can feel uncomfortable, it is a helpful emotion at times when we face unknown circumstances because it makes our body hyper-alert and vigilant to all that is going on around us. It’s “looking out” for us! For more on this see my blog, “5 Practical Tips to Help Overcome Anxiety in Children”
Anxiety is Interesting.
It’s interesting because it can give us deeper insights into understanding our reactions. We can ask ourselves,
“What is my anxiety telling me?”
“What is it trying to help me to learn from this situation?”
We can help our children to develop these awareness skills, which can support their Emotional Intelligence. Instead of being overwhelmed by an emotion, they can be guided by their intuitive reaction as to what might be needed to keep themselves safe, emotionally and physically, in strange or difficult situations.
Anxiety is Organic.
If you feed anxiety, it grows. So if you keep saying things like, “Oh, she’s an anxious child”, you’ll be encouraging it to become rooted in your child’s personality. Rather, reflect your child’s experience in a way that helps your child to see that Anxiety does not need to be permanent. So, at times when a child is showing signs of anxiety, I might say something like,
“You’re feeling anxious at the moment?”
The phrase “at the moment” gives her the message this isn’t permanent – and we’re dealing with it. I perceive it’s important to acknowledge the emotion and not ignore it, because suppressed emotions can go underground and resurface in other more challenging ways at other stages.
Anxiety is Understandable.
We can see how anxiety makes sense when we stand back and look at it objectively. When I’ve listened to what my child tells me I might validate how this is understandable. “And that makes sense because …”
Imagine how your child might get upset and anxious about a new situation, like going to the dentist for the first time. The more you can help her understand what will happen ahead of time, the more you are calm and relaxed, and interact with her about her experience in an empathetic way, the more likely your child’s sense of anxiety will remain at a level that is understandable to her (or him!)
Anxiety is Systemic.
Anxiety, like all emotions, can be Systemic. If we feed it, it can grow and impact the whole ‘system’ – both the system of one’s own body, but anxiety can also impact the whole system of a family or even of a society. In other words, one person’s anxiety can have a knock-on effect on others. And that anxiety can become anxiety-inducing in itself.
Just as anxiety can take over and multiply in a way that chokes healthy processing of an individual’s thoughts and feelings, it can also choke our interactions and behaviours, both individually and systemically. If we leave it unchecked – it can become rampant in a person, in a family or even in a society.
Take time to reflect on these 7 insights to how to calm your child’s anxiety, so that you have this awareness already at hand when you need it.
I hope these 7 pointers can help you move anxiety from being a tyrannical master to a helpful servant, that gives you useful feedback about your situation. If you have times when your child’s anxiety is of concern, use these pointers to guide the outcome of the anxiety in a different, more helpful direction.
We’d love to hear your experiences about what you find helpful regarding how to calm your child’s anxiety. Please post your question or comment below.
Sometimes a child’s anxiety shows up as shy or clingy behaviour. But it might also show up in other ways, perhaps being the ‘clown’, or a tendency to worry; or anxiety might show up as over-protective, bossy, obsessive-compulsive or even aggressive behaviour. If you are looking for practical tools and insights on how to respond when your child’s interactions are challenging, then you’ll want to read Val Mullally’s book, “BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t”. Click here for your free chapter.