Noticing anxiety in children can be tough on any parent. If you support a child who struggles with anxiety or regulating emotions, you may notice they tend to get stuck. That anxious thought, fear, or possibly even agitation or rage seems to take hold and they just can’t see beyond. So what can you do to help?
Anxiety is a part of life
The reality is that everyone experiences anxious or uncomfortable thoughts and emotions at times. One thing that helps many of us get through is the perspective to take a little distance from those thoughts. It’s the ability to recognise those thoughts and emotions can come and go, and to see a ‘bigger picture.’
How we respond matters
It is quite natural for parents to try to distract a child away from the trigger; to help them avoid. Or maybe to comfort a child, suggesting “you’re OK.” While this is always very well intentioned, it may not be the most effective approach. Instead, you can foster resilience by broadening their awareness to the idea that experiences can be more than one thing. Don’t ignore, invalidate, or distract away from the thought or emotion, but add to. That first day of school can be both scary, and exciting. The ‘annoying’ sibling can be both annoying and kind and helpful. Or even that math homework can be both difficult, and worth the effort. How do you sell that? Well, that would depend on the child. If we’re talking about an older child who has their sights on further education and a job, you can work that angle. For some children though, it might be about reminding them to get through that homework so that they can get finished and out for some football or on to the tablet.
Small changes can make a big difference… over time
What’s important is to remember that this is a skill set and can be encouraged and taught. Building resilience is likely going to take more than just changing some language. There are so many ways to help children get unstuck, but we suggest you take this first simple step. Replace ‘but’ with ‘and.’ When you approach with homework or are trying to get out the door to school and their response is “but It’s too hard,” think about your approach. Instead of “you’re fine, you’ve got this” or “you’ll be fine once you get there,” acknowledge that thought and expand it. You might suggest “I know it can be tough and I can help,” or “I know you’re scared to go, you can be scared and still walk through that door.” Or another simple change you can make is add for now; “I know it’s difficult for now, and the more you practice, the easier it will get.”
Need more help?
If you need to know more about anxiety in children, you can book a free, 30-minute block with one of our therapists from our homepage here. Or have a look at our unique parenting series: An Acceptance and Mindfulness-based Approach to Parenting the Anxious Child. This 4-week series involves 4 live sessions with our experienced therapists and 3 pre-recorded sessions available to view at your convenience. Click below to learn more.