What Not to Do When Your Child Is Anxious
When your child is anxious, your parental instinct is to make your child feel better. But often, even the most well-meaning responses can enable fears and make anxiety worse in the long-term. Here are some examples and tips for what to do instead.
DON'eassure with phrases such as “Don’t worry,” or, “There is nothing to worry about.”
Your child’s fears feel very real, even when the child knows there is nothing to worry about. That doesn’t mean you should leave your child alone and let him or her worry. The child may want to stop the worrying but simply can’t. The more children are told there is nothing to worry about, the more they may begin to think there is something wrong with them since they’re being, 'worried over nothing.'
Instead__, acknowledge your child’s anxiety. You might want to take several deep breaths together to help the child calm down and then work together to find solutions.
DON'T avoid things and places that cause anxiety
One of the easiest ways to avoid feeling anxious is to avoid places, things and events that cause anxiety. Unfortunately, this then reinforces the idea that there is a reason to fear the situation. In the long-run, avoidance increases anxiety.
An alternative approach is to use exposure techniques that slowly expose your child to the frightening situation. For example, if your child is anxious about playing at the playground, you might start by reading a book about the experience, then sit outside a playground. Over time, you and your child might move closer to the playground or sit inside it. As your child’s fear subsides, you can encourage the child to play on the swings or interact with the other children.
DON'T label your child as a “worrier”
When you label someone as a worrier, you define that person by their anxiety. It’s important to remember that while your child has an anxiety disorder, it doesn’t define who the child is. Labeling your child as a worrier could lead to the child accepting it as a character trait that can’t be changed.
A better way is to define your child based on their positive characteristics, such as kind, generous, loving or caring. Explain the difference between, “you have anxiety and this can cause you to worry,” and, “you are a worrier.” In addition, use language that lets your child know he or she is valued.
DON'T try to eliminate the anxiety
No matter who it is living with an anxiety disorder, you aren’t going to magically make it disappear. So your goal shouldn’t be to eliminate all of your child’s worries and fears, but rather to teach the child how to manage anxiety.
You can do this by providing children with the tools to manage their anxiety. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing until your child feels comfortable using them. You can take it a step further by teaching mindfulness to help your child move from the past/future to the present.
Another technique is to create step-by-step checklists for your child to follow when faced with anxiety, or to try making a worry chest, where your child can deposit their worries.
DON'T take it personally
Too often, parents internalize their child’s behaviors, taking these “faults” as a reflection of their parenting skills. They might feel responsible or guilty for somehow causing the anxiety. But when you take on the responsibility of the anxiety, you take away your child’s chance of learning how to manage fears.
The solution is to let go of the guilt. Your child has an anxiety disorder. Rather than focusing on where it came from or how it happened, focus on what you can do to help your child manage symptoms and fears. And, if necessary, reach out for professional help.