As an adult you might think, life is so easy for a child what do they have to worry about? There are so many factors that play into how much anxiety your child has. Genetics, their inborn temperament, their environment and how resilient they are. Some children are just more anxious. This makes them more sensitive and more aware of the world around them and how others react to them. Their perception may be skewed by their anxiety. How they see the situation and what really happened, may not be how the child interepreted it.
For example, they may have the common thinking trap that they can read minds: here is an example
Emily walks into a room and two kids start whispering. Emily may already be sensitive and nervous about entering the room. So when she sees the two kids whispering, her automatic thought is to think the worst.
“They are talking about me.”
“They are making fun of me.”
“See, I knew I shouldn’t have come.”
As the parent we can help them with some detective thinking:
Where is the proof that they were talking about you?
What can you say instead that can be more helpful?
Helpful thought: “I actually don’t know if they are talking about me. They may be talking about their after school plans.”
This is easier said than done, but with practice your child can get there.
1. The first step is to get your child talking. Being aware of your child’s unhelpful thoughts can be your way to really understand what they are going through.
2. Give an empathetic ear. Just listen. Hear them. Don’t interrupt. Active listening and giving empathy will help the child open up more.
“Of course you feel that way, you’ve had a hard day.”
3. Name it to tame it (Dr. J. Siegel):
Label the feeling. : “Looks like you’re feeling frustrated.”
Teach them feelings words so they can label their own feelings. Eventually with practice they’ll be able calm themselves down.
4. Do some detective thinking. As used in the example above ask questions.
“So what’s the worst thing that would happen if you didn’t get perfect on the test?”
4. Make a plan. Don’t fight fires. Plan ahead for situations that don’t go well. Think about why it’s not going well. Ask your child what would help. Work on it together.
5. Work on ways to turn the volume down on their stress and anxiety. Does your child know how to calm themselves down? Create a little quiet zone they can go to proactively to calm down. Make it part of the routine. Relaxation needs to be practiced when they are calm.
6. Tolerate the distress in your child. Working on your child’s anxiety will be pushing them out of their comfort zone. It will also cause you stress. You don’t want to push too hard, but you have to push a bit. Some children will act out because they haven’t be pushed before, they don’t want to be pushed. If I fight enough, my parent will step back, right?
Remain consistent. The purpose of making a plan together is that they are part of the new change. If it doesn’t go well don’t give up. Talk about it later when everyone is calm. And then try again.
7. Self care for the parent. Your self care is so important. When was then last time you did something for yourself. Start with five minutes a day. Children learn what they live. Be a good role model. Take care of your own stress and mental health. It’s difficult to be patient and support an anxious child when your own stress levels are high.
8. Take it one step at a time. What are the steps you can take to get to your goal? Work on the steps together with you child. Be consistent.
Problem: Swimming lessons. Step one: go to family swim. Step two: Watch a class. Step three: sit on the edge of the pool. Step four: go in for half the lesson. Goal: take a full lesson
This is just one example of how to slowly expose your child to their stressor one step at a time.
Anxiety is normal. When it’s running your child’s life it’s time to make a change. Your child may need professional help. Your Doctor should be the first step. They can direct you to the support and services in your area.
Good luck! You got this, take it one step at a time.