Parental support of children with anxiety
When your child has anxiety, it can very stressful as a parent. Many parents ask me what they can do at home to support what I am working on with their child in their counseling session. I believe that it is most important to not offer advice but to listen when they are sharing their feelings- with no judgment.
Anxiety is the body’s way of dealing with the need to fight, flight or freeze. The child struggling with anxiety is not trying to worry and feel anxious, they are trying to cope with their body’s need to deal with the “tiger” it thinks it is about to be attacked by. The body doesn’t know the difference between an actual tiger and the fear of being laughed at if you answer a question wrong in class. The body responds the same way to the two different fears.
When a child is anxious, they feel their heart racing; their palms sweating and they feel like they are disappointing themselves and others due to the way they are “acting”.
There are healthy and safe ways to help your child cope with their anxiety.
One, work with them on practicing their breathing techniques they learned while in session. Practicing makes it more likely they will use the technique when it they are struggling the most. It will be more like second nature.
Two, ask your child how you can best support them when they are feeling anxious. They may need a hug, a moment alone or a reminder to use their relaxation techniques. Every child is different and every time they feel anxious may not be the same.
Third, help your child to create a safe space where they can go to be alone and regulate (effectively manage and respond) to their anxiety.
Fourth, have a plan for when you and your child are away from the house and they are struggling to regulate their anxiety. Parents and children often chose a word or phrase the child can use to let the parent know the child is struggling and needs to move away from whatever activity they are engaged in. This way, the child is not embarrassed by their anxiety and the parent can support the child in a way that is predetermined.
Fifth, positive feedback about how they handled their anxiety with specific praise will help them feel good about themselves and let them know you have noticed them trying their best. Criticism and negativity fuel their anxiety so it’s best to use positive feedback.
Often, anxious children have anxious parents.
Making sure you are managing your own anxiety is key to a calm household. Children learn by watching and parents are the greatest models for appropriate behavior. Spending time relaxing after a hard day and letting your child know that is how you handle a hard day at work helps them to understand healthy coping skills.
Stressful Mornings make anxious, stressed out kids
Lynne Kenney, PsyD and Wendy Young, LMSW, BCD write in “Bloom, 50 Things to Say, Think and Do with Anxious, Angry and Over-the-top Kids” that the keys to lowering morning stress are consistency, routine, family needs system, parents teaching how-to’s, getting out of your emotional brain, collaborating with teachers, parents responding to their own childhood chaos, and consistent eating and sleeping routines.
Tips from Kenney and Young:
-Keep things consistent with rules and expectations
-Write down and keep visible the morning routine
-Family needs system is the actual way a family believes things should be done such as how a bathroom is cleaned
-Parents should teach the children the best way to accomplish a task for independence
-The parent or child may need help regulating their emotions in the morning so they can think clearly
-Work with the teacher if your child is struggling with homework so the mornings don’t have an added stressor
-Get help for your own past/childhood traumas or issues so you can parent with less stress
-Have consistent eating and sleeping routines so everyone’s brains are working the best they can
How Play Therapists can help your child with Anxiety
Credit: Liana Lowenstein’s “Creative CBT Interventions for Children with Anxiety”
1-Cognitive behavioral style therapy may be used
2-Parents will actively participate in collaboration with the therapist
3-Games and art based techniques will be utilized in the playroom
4-Parents coaching children between sessions to use what they have learned
5-Understanding that progress takes time and does not happen on a timeline
6-Lifelong coping skills will be taught
7-Relaxation techniques will be taught
8-Treatment goals will be created specific to your child
Recognize that anxiety is real. If a child feels that a parent is belittling or denying the existence of their anxiety, they will try to hide it or minimize it, which will cause the anxiety to grow. Check with your pediatrician for a respected children’s play therapist near you.