Are you a parent with a kid who is struggling with anxiety? Or maybe you are a friend or family member who wants to help. Today, I am going to talk about how we can help kids struggling with anxiety.
What is anxiety?
I think we hear this word thrown around a lot. I’m anxious about work. I have anxiety about this upcoming, confrontational situation. If we look to the ADAA, an anxiety disorder is defined as:
Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things. (http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad)
Basically, anxiety is the persistent worry about everyday things. For those of us not struggling with anxiety, it may be hard to see the rational. The truth is, anxiety is not rational. So what do you do when someone is having irrational, anxious thoughts? My suggestion, be black and white. Don’t ask the “why” question. Someone who is anxious will give you a million different reasons or better yet, will tell you, “If I knew, don’t you think I would get rid of it!” Have you heard that one before?
Now what do you do if you are a parent who’s child is struggling? First: don’t let your child avoid. Simple? Not really. When we avoid the anxious event, it validates in our brain that the situation is bad and your body reacts accordingly. Yes, it probably will take everything you’ve got (or your child has) to go through the event while your brain and body tell you not to. But, when the event is over, your brain releases what is know as endorphins. Ever heard of them? They’re the good guys. The feel good hormones. When those bad boys release, it is telling your brain, “See this is not bad. See you don’t need to go into panic mode. Yes you can do it and you don’t have to feel anxious while completing it.”
Don’t seek reassurance!
This is a big one with kids. It’s the, “mom, please don’t make me go. please don’t make me do this.” Heard that one before? So what do you do when your kid is seeking reassurance. Remind yourself that you are not their therapist. You are not there to fix the problem for them. When you do that, when you try to fix it for them, in the long run it does nothing but make matters worse. By you taking them out of the situation, it tells their brain, “See, mom will fix it. I don’t have to do it. I don’t have to face my anxiety. I can avoid it.” Is that what we want our kids to think? I hope you answered no.
Now, this is a big one…
Now this is a big one. The one area that I never like to bring up with parents but I’m not doing my job unless I bring it up… are you anxious? Yep, be real with yourself right now. Do you have anxiety? Are you avoiding your anxiety by “helping your kids through theirs?” See, when you don’t help yourself, your kids don’t get 100% of what they need. If you answered yes, don’t worry and don’t freak out. (I know you are freaking out, because you are anxious person.) Here’s the beauty behind it. Everything you do to help yourself you can use to help your kids. And added bonus, your kids are going to pick up on you being healthier and brighter.
My take away
Here’s my take away on kids with anxiety: parents check-in with yourself, don’t allow your kids to avoid or seek reassurance. But, keep in mind, anxiety is not a beast you want to try to tackle on your own. Let a therapist help you and help your kiddo.
Let's keep the conversation going. Please leave your comments below on your thought to this article and how you help your kids struggling with anxiety.