When your Child’s Anxiety Is Making You Anxious: 20 Ways to Make It Better
Parents and caregivers are often naturally inclined to reach out to their children when they are anxious, scared, or stressed. Though it often comes as a surprise, parents of anxious children may start to feel anxious, helpless, hopeless, angry, or desperate themselves in response. The next time your child is ridden with anxiety, repeat any of these coping phrases and practices. Your child will likely begin to mirror you.
1. “This too shall pass.” Like all emotions, anxiety will pass. Chances are that waiting ten to fifteen minutes will result in lessening anxiety levels. Take deep breathes, distract yourself with a pleasant activity, stretch, and repeat the phrase.
2. “Anxiety serves a purpose.” Oftentimes we pathologize anxiety in children. In fact, anxiety serves an important biological function to keep us safe. Teaching your child to differentiate between anxiety that will help and anxiety that will hinder her/him is a valuable life skill.
3. Breathe. Deep breathing actually reverses the body’s stress response. When we are anxious, we tend to take shallow breaths. Taking three conscious, deep breaths will alleviate much of our anxiety. Let Elmo be your guide:
4. “We are on the same team.” Remember, you and your child can work together to develop a calm minds and bodies.
5. “I am my child’s guide.” Remind yourself that your role is not to control the challenges your child will face but rather to be her/his guide through the experiences. This may mean you need to learn more coping strategies to manage anxiety, but you are the best one to lead the way!
6. Observe. Instead of “doing something,” slow things down by simply observing what is happening like an outsider. Try to identify triggers of anxiety. By identifying triggers, you can help your child cope with them, thereby limiting your own sense of helplessness.
7. Stick to the routine. Anxious children thrive on predictability. You may not be able to do anything about the trigger, but you can reinforce the routine. Bedtime, family rituals, and morning routines center our children, better preparing them for the outside world.
8. Meditate. Take some time to be still and focus on your breath for a few moments.
9. “Help is available.”Hopelessness usually means you have exhausted your ability to deal with your child’s anxiety. Having another set of eyes on the situation may make all the difference in the world. Whether a professional counselor, a relative, or another trusted adult, turn to those in your child’s circle for help.
10. “My child’s anxiety is not a reflection of my parenting.” Stop questioning whether you should or could have done something differently with your child. Focus rather on what you can do as their guide through their challenges.
11. “What would make my child laugh right now?” Whether it’s a funny noise, a silly story, or singing the wrong words to a favorite song, laughter is the fastest way to make you both feel better.
12. “I’m going to take a break.” It’s okay to take five minutes of quiet time or put yourself in a place to reconnect with yourself when you are feeling angry. Not only are you modeling appropriate behavior, but you also have a chance to take a few breaths and remind yourself of a few of these phrases.
13. “I love you. I’m here for you.” Your children will experience stress that they cannot control. Reminding them that you love them and are here for them is reassuring, not just for them but for you as well.
14. “In this moment, right now, what can I do to improve the moment?” Some days it will be getting ice cream; others it will be going for a run or buying/picking flowers. Make a long list for yourself of ways to improve the moment that you can reference when you need it.
15. “S/he does not know how to deal with this.” Frustration over your children’s anxiety can sometimes result from forgetting that they are trying to learn how to navigate a world of unknowns. Regardless of whether their fear is rational, or of how many times you have been through this, ask yourself how you can be their guide.
16. “I am on a beach.” There is a reason why guided imagery is used during labor and delivery to reduce pain. It works! Imagine yourself in a soothing, happy place before you speak.
17. “My job is to help my child become a functioning adult.” When you put it into perspective, you must teach your child how to acknowledge, reduce, and wade through anxiety if she/he is to be a functioning adult.
18. “I have control over my reaction.” Ultimately, the only person you can control is you. Govern your feelings, control your reactions, and then help your child learn to do the same. You can teach your child the art of emotional self-regulation by modeling it.
19. “Progress is never linear.” Learning to cope with anxiety is not a linear process. Sometimes it can feel like you are moving in circles. It takes time and practice and repetition for you and your child.
20. “I’m doing the best I can.” In this moment, with the tools you have, you are doing the very best you can. Some days your reaction to your child’s anxiety may be cool, calm, collected, empathetic, and thoughtful—on other days, perhaps not as much. We are all a work in progress, and you are doing the best you can.
For more help and support, contact Tara at firstname.lastname@example.org.