When children are anxious, it is a normal, caring response to want to help them feel better. However, sometimes the support we provide can unintentionally make their anxiety worse.
Luckily, there are many things that parents can do to support their child effectively. Here are a few:
Let your child know that anxious, worried and scared feelings are normal.
Let your child know that we all get anxious feelings and these feelings are normal. In fact, sometimes they can come in handy, like making you skate faster during a close hockey game or practice harder before your music recital. It is when anxious feelings get too big that they can cause us problems. We can, however, help our kids make these normal feelings smaller and more manageable.
Help your child tolerate their anxious feelings rather than rescuing them from their feelings.
Remember, anxiety is a normal feeling; the goal is not to get rid of the feelings but instead help your child understand and tolerate them. It is reasonable that loving parents want to rush in and take their children out of situations that make them anxious. Although well-intended, the message parents are sending is that the best way to manage anxious feelings is to avoid them altogether. But avoidance feeds anxiety. Your child may temporarily feel better, but this is only temporary. In the long run, avoidance can make the anxious, worried and scared feelings even worse.
Respect your child’s feelings while building their confidence.
As parents, you may think your child’s feelings make absolutely no sense and may even feel that they are “ridiculous.” That is ok. However, it is important to remember your child’s anxious, worried or scared feelings are very real and challenging for them. We can validate our children’s feelings without agreeing with them. We want to be careful not to belittle or invalidate our children’s worries, but we also don’t want to make them bigger. Sound confusing? It’s one of those things that is not always easy, especially when we are learning.
Start with listening, being empathetic and letting them know that you understand that the feelings they are experiencing are hard. If we miss this first step, the second step will feel invalidating to our children, and their anxious feelings may escalate. Validation calms their brain so that they can move to step two. You can’t promise your child that their fears are unrealistic; perhaps they will get made fun of at a party or fail their math test, for example. But you can communicate to them that you are confident that they will be able to manage the situation. You can let them know that as they learn to face their worries that the anxiety will get smaller over time and that you are there to help.
Like we said, this is not always easy. Some children and parents benefit from having professionals provide support to help the family and the child manage their anxious feelings. Early intervention is always the best intervention. If you are not sure if your child needs support, never hesitate to reach out to us, and together we can figure out what you and your child may or may not need in terms of support.