We are all born hardwired for how we handle anxiety, some of us are not anxious at all – some of us are very anxious. In addition to that hard-wiring, life events and experiences push us up or down the continuum. Some anxiety is good safe choices but we want to make sure that our children control their anxiety so it doesn’t control them. We don’t want their worries and fears to get in the way of enjoying and participating fully in their lives.
The best way to determine if your child has a problem with anxiety is to think about whether it is stopping them from doing the things they want to. Does it make them feel badly about themselves? Do they spend a lot of time clinging and crying or if they’re older withdrawing. Do they feel great distress when separating from you? Do they worry way in advance about things that have not happened yet? Do they constantly complain of headaches, stomach aches or dizziness? Any physical symptoms should be checked out by a doctor but you can ask your child’s pediatrician to investigate anxiety if this is a theme for your child.
Parents should also understand that some children are happy even though they tend to stand on the sidelines. It is not always anxiety some children prefer to observe and take things in tackling tasks or activities when they are ready. It’s important to know when it’s our issue versus theirs.
Children don’t always show the typical or obvious signs of anxiety that we might think of, sometimes demanding behavior, extreme bossiness temper tantrums and sleep disturbances can all be symptoms of anxiety.
Here’s what to do:
Get Connected: Spend more cuddle time with young children and spend more alone time with teenagers. Children feel safe and more secure when they feel deeply loved.
Fight or Flight Response: When a child is feeling anxious, their fight or flight instincts might kick in. This means their brain is not letting them think rationally, so when a parent tries to rationalize the situation, the child feels like they aren’t being listened to. Instead, ask lots of questions about how they are feeling, and put some urgency in your voice, without sounding anxious yourself. This will show you get that they are worried, and will help them get back to a place where they can hear the logical things you have to say.
Give it a Name: Don’t talk about your child being afraid, because this makes it seem like something that they can’t fix. Give it a name, like the “worry bug” for older kids or teens just refer to it as the worry that gets in the way. Then you can work together to come up with ways to reduce it. This helps kids to control their emotions.
Get the Control back: Kids are exposed to a lot of adults themes – and they are not socially or emotionally prepared to deal with these. Set limits on behavior and the things you kids are exposed to. When kids see that parents don’t have control they get nervous about who will take care of them, this aggravates anxiety.
Scaling: Get your kids to rate their anxiety and use deep breathing or positive imagery to bring the number down.
Calm yourself: Sometimes children come by there anxiety honestly. Use the same techniques to make sure you are calm. Kids often gauge their responses based on ours.
Jennifer Kolari, MSW, RSW