If your child suffers from being anxious, you already know that watching them struggle with it the worst. As parents, we genuinely want to make everything better. But anxiety is not like a scraped knee, we can’t just kiss it or wish it away. But we also don’t have to watch it happen. There are things we can do, starting with support and considering professional help. Especially after this past year of living the pandemic life and the unthinkable lurking around every corner.
As their parents, kids expect us to be able to calm them, make them feel safe, remove that feeling of anxiety and dread that is rising up in them for whatever reason. They want us to take those anxious feelings away and make them feel happy and relaxed again. And as parents, that’s what we want too. The problem is, knowing what we want – and what our children want – and knowing how to make that happen are two separate issues, and the former is much easier than the letter. In fact, some parents can start to feel anxious themselves in this situation, as they don’t know what to say or do to make their child feel better.
The past year and especially these past few weeks filled with upheaval and loss, we’ve all been a little anxious. The truth is there are no perfect words to say, and there is no perfect response because every child is different. However, doing something, even if it’s imperfect, is far better than doing nothing at all, and even if it doesn’t entirely quell your child’s fears, it can go a long way toward helping them, and it might give you an insight into their thoughts and feelings too, enabling you to be more proactive in the future.
How to help your child when they are feeling anxious
Always Be Empathetic
One of the most important things your child will want from you when they are feeling anxious is to know that you understand how they feel. This is why empathy is so important; your child will be much more likely to come to you in the future with other issues if they know you are understanding. Suppose you brush away their concerns because you don’t personally understand why they
are worried, or you know that whatever their concern is isn’t really a big deal. In that case, they will pull away, and when there is something more problematic to worry them, they may stay silent, making them feel worse and causing potential behavioral problems.
Empathy is an important trait to have, but it is not the same as sympathy, and this distinction is important. Sympathy is about acknowledging their anxiety and caring that they are upset. Empathy is about understanding the anxiety itself; you are putting yourself in their position, in other words. Although sympathy is not a negative thing, empathy is much better – it helps the child much more.
When you are showing empathy, the best advice is to show emotion. If you stay cool and calm, it doesn’t matter what your words say; your child will get the feeling you don’t really understand what they are going through.
Keep Them In The Moment
When people – and this includes children – are anxious, they will start talking about ‘if only’ and ‘what if’, trying to think of a way that they can undo the problem. Of course, this is not possible, and it will only serve to make things more upsetting. You cannot go back in time and make good mistakes or change something so that whatever is causing the anxiety isn’t a problem. Yet as human beings, we seem to be conditioned to think along these lines, always working out ways we could have prevented this or that thing from occurring.
If this is how your child is reacting, you can help them by keeping them in the present. Just listening and being fully present can mean everything. Simply reminding them that there is no point in worrying about the past probably won’t help; adults know this logically, and yet still they have the same concerns. What you can do is assist your child in being more mindful, so they concentrate only on the present. In this way, they can not only stop worrying about the past, but they can forget any upcoming worries too. To do this, you need to engage their senses. They need to name five things they can see to begin with, and then name four things they can touch. Then three things they can hear. This will bring their attention right back to the present and calm them considerably.
Have a Ritual
Rituals and routines are how children, teens (and many adults) run their lives, and they are comforting, even when the child is feeling anxious. Why not come up with your own ritual for when your child is feeling upset and worried? If you use it every time, and it’s one they can relate to and enjoy, then they will always have a tangible way to reduce their fears and to feel better.
One idea might be to ‘press a button’. The button could be your nose or perhaps a nose ring you wear (or another piece of jewelry) or mole on your arm or anything else that could conceivably be a button. If the child is feeling anxious, get them to tell you what is wrong, and then have them ‘press the button’. When they do this, perhaps you can sing a silly song, tell a joke, or do an impression. Maybe they have to copy you. This will immediately turn a sad or scary situation into a funny one that they think of fondly. It’s good for children to have their own coping mechanisms, but if they can also have one that involves you and shows that you know what they are going through, this can help even more.
The above idea is just one of so many you can come up with. It’s often best to think of your own rituals that relate to you and your child, as they will have the most positive impact and offer the biggest benefits.
There are many different ways that we parents can help our anxious child but not all of them will have a positive effect. This is why it is crucial to ensure that we are empathetic and that we allow our children to say what’s on their minds and tell us how they are feeling. Try to assure them that their feelings are valid and talk them through. Even if you’re not sure what to do to help, just listening and understanding can be enough.
How do you comfort your child when they are having anxiety about a new or stressful situation.