Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns for children and their parents. But how can you, as a parent tell is your child’s anxiety is interfering with their everyday life?
A Quick Anxiety Quiz
Does your child often complain about headaches, tummy aches, or not feeling well and there is no medical reason?
Is your child often coming home and has not eaten their lunch or snacks?
Does your child refuse to use the bathrooms except at home?
Does your child have trouble falling asleep?
Does your child talk about not wanting to go to school?
Does your child not have any school friends?
Does your child have frequent meltdowns? Is overly emotionally?
Does your child ask a lot of what if questions or talks about their fears and worries?
Does your child repeatedly erase their work stating it’s not neat enough? Or it’s not perfect?
Does your child avoid social situations that most other children enjoy – going to parties, joining a team, or even learning a new skill like riding a bike?
Have teachers mentioned that your child seems nervous working in groups or speaking in class?
Does your child change clothes several times a day because she or he sweats a lot when she or he is nervous?
Does your child experience shortness of breath or a racing heart for no apparent reason?
Does your child worry excessively about events that are highly unlikely to happen? (the bus crashing, your death, a fire at school or at home)
How many questions did you say yes to? The higher the point total, the greater the likelihood that your child show signs of anxiety.
What can YOU do as a parent?
Pay attention to your child’s feelings
Start using words to describes your child’s emotions. Let your child know everyone feels anxious from time to time. And that they can learn to overcome this feeling. Teach your younger child that emotions come and go just like clouds do or the ran does. Sometimes it rains and then the rain stops and goes away, just like your emotions. Sometimes you’re super happy like when you it’s your birthday and other times you are not super happy. Some times you get angry or sad and these emotions do not stay forever. Emotions come and go. Even anxiety comes and goes.
Be understanding that your child needs more time
Understand your child goes at a slower pace and you cannot push your child to learn new skills faster or join in an activity right away. Give your child the permission to stand on the sidelines and watch what is happening. Talk about what is going to happen before they go to a new event. Let your child know you will stay with them for a while as long as they are interacting with other people at the party. Role play how to deal with different situations and social events. Keep on going to events and social gatherings even if your child is anxious. Avoid events that make us anxious is not helpful in the long term as your child does not learn how to overcome challenges.
Express confidence in your child’s abilities
Express confidence that you believe your child will do the best she or he can. Let your child know sometimes things will not go smoothly or perfectly and they will have set backs or even fail a test or forget some of their lines when having to speak in front of the class and while that may be upsetting or embarrassing it’s going to be OK. Be realistic that sometimes we do not perform perfectly and that’s OK. Express your confidence that your child will be able to manage life’s challenges.
Encourage and teach your child to tolerate their anxiety
As a parent, you need to teach your child that we can tolerate unpleasant feelings. Anxiety is unpleasant and it is normal to feel anxious at times. For example, you may talk about being anxious when you were thinking of asking your partner out on a date or when you went for your driving test, or even when you wrote exams at school. Talk about how it can be normal to feel anxious when we do not know anything about a new situation. Talk about how you were anxious your first day at your new job meeting everyone and how you managed your anxiety and you realized there wasn’t really anything to worry about and how you eventually felt comfortable.
Head over to the library or your local book store to read
There are lots of books for kids of all ages about worrying.
Check out https://laughingkidslearn.com/20-books-to-help-children-who-worry-or-suffer-from-anxiety/ and https://www.cbc.ca/parents/learning/view/fifteen-librarian-recommended-books-for-kids-dealing-with-anxiety for little kids or https://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=22612 for kids and teens. Reading can help start the conversation about managing anxiety, give stories on how other kids overcame their anxiety, and provide exercises and skills for older children and teens.
Parents can read up on how to help their anxious children by looking at some of these books https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/books-anxiety-parents-kids_l_5c93c5fde4b093dbd8193cd8.
Moms and Dads learn how to manage your Anxiety
Mom and Dad if you are a worrier, now is the time to learn how to manage your anxiety so you model healthy ways to manage anxiety. It is important that you model calm positive ways to manage your stress. We all get stressed but if yelling, freaking out or avoiding situations is you managing style your kids are learning to copy you behaviour. Children take tier cues from you. They are always watching what we do. Unfortunately, we do transmit of fears and anxiety to our kids. Learn how to tolerate stress yourself and your kids will learn how to work through stressful situations too. Label and talk about your emotions. Being an adult is stressful. And it’s OK to say you find certain situations stressful and what you do to manage your stress and anxiety.
Teach your child how to breathe to reduce their anxiety
Teach your child how breathing slowly can help them reduce their anxiety. My favourite breathing technique is the 4-7-8 breathing routine by Dr. Andrew Weil https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-C_VNM1Vd0 . Like he says you need to do this every day. I really like this technique and use it myself.
For little children I use a hand technique to help them visualize breathing https://copingskillsforkids.com/deep-breathing-exercises-for-kids#:~:text=Put%20up%20one%20hand%2C%20palm,your%20thumb%20and%20breathe%20out. Or you can use blowing bubbles as well to help them slow their breath down.
Remember every little bit helps. We may not conquer the anxiety dragon today but over time the anxiety dragon will get smaller and smaller until if we keep working on this together. If you see your child is struggling with Anxiety, reach out for help by talking with one of our therapists today.
We’re here to listen.