Do you wonder what’s a normal worry and what’s too much?
Parents always want to help their children, but how can they help them if they are not sure that anything is wrong?
Dr. Ronald Rapee, one of the authors of Helping Your Anxious Child: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents, explains some of the warning signals for parents with anxious children:
“Kids are often very shy and withdrawn, have trouble mixing or making friends, they express a lot of worry, so they might worry about all sorts of little things and they’ll often say those worries to their parents. They might worry about their parent being killed in an accident. They might be worried about just normal, run of the mill things, like family finances or they might worry about what other kids think of them or kids laughing at them… they might take an incredibly long time to do homework, or they might be really slow at getting ready in the morning or they might really be hesitant about not wanting to sleep over, so they avoid a lot of things. They’re the sorts of behaviors that parents and teachers can look for; it’s the avoidance, it’s the worries, the hesitation, nervousness and shyness.”
The four authors of the book, Helping Your Anxious Child: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents, understand that parenting an anxious child is really difficult. They describe the experience like being on a roller coaster: “While anxious children are often thoughtful and caring, they can also be exasperating and place extra demands on parents in terms of time and emotion.”
Not only that, but parents of anxious children feel very alone as many times their friends and family do not see the distress the family experiences on a day-to-day basis.
As most parents only want their children to enjoy and succeed, they feel a lot of pain when their child seems to miss out on so many of life’s rewards because they are scared of something. Most parents want to help – but simply do not know how. The authors write, “it is understandably frustrating when nothing you do seems to work. Sometimes the things you try seem to make children worse in the long term, and because most people think that children will ‘just grow out of it’ at some point, many families suffer for a long time before they find out that something can be done.”
The steps in the book take months to complete and flying through them in just a few weeks will mean that no one benefits. Instead, Rapee explains that the program suggested in the guide “teach[es] the kids to think more realistically, we give them a lot of education, we teach them to gradually face their fears systematically and we teach the parents different ways of handling the young people and different ways of interacting with them…it’s very structured, very systematic and the important thing is that we get really good results.”
This step-by-step guide is worth considering if you are struggling with helping your child with anxiety. Through disciplined hard work, it is possible to make your child’s life more pleasant and less scary. Below, I have included some additional tips that I incorporate into my six-week anxiety workshops for children and parents:
- Manage the body. People who are stressed don’t take care of their bodies. But, this leads to a cycle of stress. Therefore, in order to manage your emotional and mental state, you need to take care of your physical self:
Eat right. Get plenty of fruits, vegetables, and proteins. These will help your brain feel safe and taken care of.
Avoid sugar and caffeine. These substances can create dips and spikes in our moods.
Exercise. Exercise releases stress-reducing hormones that calm the body and the brain.
Sleep. Sleep gives you the ability to recharge and have energy for the day ahead.
- Breathe. Deep breathing slows down your stress response. If you practice deep breathing even when you are not anxious, you can more easily use it when you are in a stressful situation.
- Don’t listen when worry calls your name. Anxiety is an emotional state. As I talk about in my children’s book, My Friend, the Worrier, anxiety is a monster. When you feed the monster by giving into the anxiety, you let it grow bigger. Instead, you need to stop listening to the monster. You need to stop feeding it. You need to say, “That’s just my anxious brain again.” Then, you can begin relaxation breathing.
- Have a little fun. When you are in the midst of an anxious moment, it’s hard to laugh. But, if you make an effort to add more laughter and lightness into your life, you might find it easier to navigate the stress-inducing moments.
- Interrupt those worries. When you feel your brain starting up say, “Stop” or picture a stop sign or hand. Then, say something like, “I can do this” or another self-asserting statement.
For those trying to help their anxious children, it can sometimes feel like a never-ending and thankless task. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and there are people and resources out there to assist you in helping your child!