October 6, 2021
By Sean Perry, Co-Founder & President
Strategies to Help your Children Cope with their Anxiety while Managing your Own
Parenting a child with anxiety while trying to manage your own can be an incredibly tough thing to do. You go from worrying about keeping your child safe while juggling work and other family responsibilities and the next moment you’re wondering what you did wrong because your child is having a full-blown anxiety attack in front of you.
I have been working with children for years and have been through many challenges with anxiety myself. In my opinion, there are four ways to effectively help your child cope with anxiety while managing your own anxiety:
1) Be present
2) Set limits
3) Stick to a routine
4) Be aware of how you react
Anxiety doesn’t care if you’re having a bad day or you have a million other things to do. If your child needs you, being present is the most important thing for them right now.
If they need help breathing or want you to go on a walk with them so their hyperventilating can calm down, take a few minutes and be with them in that moment rather than telling them to sit quietly because it’s too upsetting or challenging for you.
A lot of the time, people say they don’t want to “enable” their anxious child by giving them too much attention or acting differently when they’re having an anxiety attack. But it is important to remember that everything you do (or don’t do) influences your child’s life and how they view the world. If you’re only present when they are having problems, all they learn is that mommy or daddy will only be there for them when things go wrong.
It takes time to get used to being more relaxed and in the moment with your child but it’s worth every second. It also makes life a lot easier on you because everything about not seeing the world through anxious eyes goes out the door. You can’t worry about anything besides making sure your child is safe and getting them through their tough moments.
Learn to enjoy life in real time and realize that life is not worth missing out on with your kids just because you’re trying to keep your anxiety under control. That doesn’t work anyway, anxiety always finds a way back into our lives even when we think we have it handled.
Anxiety doesn’t mean that your child can’t do things other children do. If they want to go play at a friend’s house, let them! It’s important for them to know you trust them and believe they are strong enough to conquer whatever fears they may have.
One of the best ways to help your child manage their anxiety and gain confidence is to give them opportunities where they can succeed. Start small and gradually increase challenges while working on staying calm yourself. I know this isn’t always possible, but it really helps if you can do this for your child.
For example, if you notice that your child’s anxiety flares up when there are a lot of people in one place or maybe they’re overwhelmed by loud noises such as fireworks shows, try to create an opportunity near these things where you encourage them to be around whatever causes their anxiety without trying to avoid it.
If you can see something like fireworks from your backyard, take your child out under the stars with a blanket and share a picnic. If you know there’s going to be a large crowd at the mall for holiday shopping, try taking your child with you there in the morning when it’s less busy so they can get their bearings and feel more comfortable before things pick up later in the day.
Stick to a Routine
Having an anxiety disorder is incredibly exhausting both physically and mentally. That doesn’t mean however that you shouldn’t try your best to stick to a routine whenever possible, especially with young anxious children (and even teenagers if this applies to you!).
For example, if your child gets very overwhelmed by change then schedule out their life as much as possible down to what time they go to bed on school nights vs weekends. It might sound strict, but the more predictable your child’s life is, the better it is for their anxiety. And sometimes our kids need more structure than we think they do!
Try to communicate with any caregivers that may be helping with things like picking your child up from school or extracurricular activities. Let them know how your child responds best to change and try your best to stick with it.
Be Aware of How You React
Anxiety can be incredibly frustrating and even embarrassing at times so it’s easy to want to push these feelings down and ignore them. But chances are, your child already knows how you feel and understands themselves a little better than you do! It’s important that they know that their anxiety isn’t something they should be ashamed of or embarrassed by, even though that may sometimes feel like the case.
When we’re anxious, we’re already feeling uncomfortable which means our reactions don’t always come out as “typical.” We may snap at our children more easily or not know why we suddenly need space from them. Anxiety doesn’t mean we don’t love our kids; it just means that sometimes we need some extra love and patience to get through these challenging moments.
Be honest with yourself and your child about what you’re feeling. If they notice a change in your behavior, try to explain why your behavior has changed so they feel less confused. In time, your child will learn how to have those hard conversations themselves but for now just being open is helpful to them and your relationship. You don’t have to put on a show for them by pretending everything is alright if it’s not, just doing the best you can will help them realize how strong their parents are and how much they care.
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