Everyone struggles with anxiety to some degree. Whether it’s healthy anxiety before a recital or a presentation, or more serious anxiety regarding life & death, or losing a loved one – we’ve all experienced anxiety at one point in our lives.
But our children are most vulnerable to it because anxiety is tied closely to a child’s development and our child’s brain is most malleable during childhood.
What triggers our kids’ worries now will continue to evolve as they get older. It’s so important to figure out how to help our children now, now while they are impressionable and open to our help.
As if that wasn’t eye-opening enough, our kids are growing up in an age of anxiety. According to Sissy Goff, MEd, LPC-MHSP, in the last three years anxiety in children has become a trend.
Children don’t possess the ability to accurately perceive their situations sometimes, which leads to anxiety or confusion about their circumstances.
So what do we do?
In the amazing book I’ve been reading by Sissy Goff titled “Raising Worry-Free Girls,” she says, “We teach our kids that they are braver that they believe, stronger than they seem and smarter than they think.” That’s the solution.
And then we fight their anxiety with knowledge and coping skills.
As parents, we can’t just wait for it to “get better.”
We can’t see our kids struggling and tell ourselves it’s not a big deal.
And later, we can’t expect medication to do all the work.
We have to show our children that they have the power to fight against their body’s response to stress and fear, and that they are capable of doing whatever they want to do.
After all, anxiety begins in the mind and manifests itself in various ways in our body.
Maybe your child gets frequent headaches, and doctors don’t know why.
Maybe your child feels nauseous often, or has regular stomachaches and there’s no obvious cause for it.
Anxiety takes root in the nervous system, and wreaks havoc.
Heightened senses, quickened heart rate, digestive system slows down, blood flow changes.
It’s a lot for a child to experience – or even understand.
Anxiety is a bully. And the only way to get rid of a bully is to confront him.
Tell him he isn’t welcome here. That you’re not having it. He is powerless in this fight with you and your child.
I’ve experienced this first hand and have felt the relief of uninviting my anxiety on family trips and long car rides. You can read more about that here.
We need to help our children identify anxiety’s effects in their body first so that they can recognize the signs right when it starts.
From there, they can get to work shutting it down.
There’s no reasoning with someone logically while their body is in fight or flight mode (i.e. when they are having an anxiety or panic attack). The most important thing to do first is to help our child regulate their breathing and slow their thoughts and heart rate down.
After their body is calm, we can begin a conversation.
I encourage you to ask them what they were thinking about right before their body acted that way.
What was bothering them? Did they see something? Feel something? Think something? Did it happen out of the blue?
Sometimes it takes a bit of investigating to find the trigger.
See if there was an irregularity in their school day, and see if you can put two-and-two together.
For example, a couple days ago I picked my daughter up from school. When we left, I told her we didn’t have time to play down the hill – plus it was muddy anyway, so we needed to go home.
As soon as we got to our truck, my daughter threw herself down on the floor and started screaming. This was TOTALLY out of character for her. I knew something was wrong. She just couldn’t get herself to calm down.
She said, “I never get to play with my friends!” which I knew wasn’t true. Even though that was an exaggeration, I probed a bit. “You got to play with your friends at school today,” I said.
“No I didn’t!” she yelled. “Why not?” I asked. “You guys didn’t go outside today?”
My daughter went on to tell me – after she calmed down some – that her teacher didn’t let them have toy centers that day because they were watching a movie. So, as soon as I told her we couldn’t stay after school, that earlier disappointment triggered a big meltdown.
It completely made sense to me. The meltdown wasn’t ok, but it made sense.
I offered to get both kids a slushy before we headed home, and initially my daughter was still too mad to accept it. “Sometimes a treat makes me feel better when I’m upset about something,” I told her. “Do you want to at least come inside and see what flavors they have?”
With some reluctance, she did decide to come inside and eventually found herself a flavor she liked.
As we walked back towards the truck she told me, “I’m starting to feel a little better Mommy.” My daughter is currently five and a half years old.
Talking to our kids about their feelings is so important. As adults, we’re encouraged to keep those feelings to ourselves, but studies – and history – have shown that this is not the healthiest approach.
It’s awkward and uncomfortable to have these conversations sometimes, but OH are they necessary.
We are our kid’s emotional support. We show them the way and help them navigate their feelings as they, and their feelings, get better.
If you have questions about how to begin one of these conversations, I would love for you to reach out and send me a message.
(P.S. The book I linked by Sissy Goff is currently on sale at Lifeway for $5 – get yours fast!)