Raising a Child with Anxiety While Staying Sane

raising a child with anxiety north shore family services

Raising a Child with Anxiety While Staying Sane

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Let’s take a minute to talk about parenting woes. I will gladly acknowledge that parenting is full of precious moments, however, it can at times feel like a thankless job. On top of managing the rise and grind of daily routines, school-life, play-dates, and navigating meal time, families often times are dealt wild cards that can give parenting a heightened sense of stress. One example of this, is raising a child with anxiety. One in four children deal with some childhood anxiety. If you happen to be the parent raising a child with anxiety, this article was written for you.

If your child has anxiety, you might be wondering why they have it and how to tell if it is really anxiety. The development of anxiety in children is linked to a situation or perceived event that is frightening or traumatizing. Think of a dog-bite or a triggering comment their peer made at school. Often times, children begin to avoid some of those triggering encounters, so as not to experience re-traumatization. Additionally, genetics and parenting styles can contribute to the onset of anxiety as well.

As a parent, it is important to realize that you cannot protect your kids from experiencing anxiety, nor is it your job to. What you can do is help your children learn to manage their anxiety. This post will walk you through that process, while simultaneously helping you stay sane! First, we’ll look at how symptoms of anxiety shows up in children, next I’ll teach you how to set realistic expectations for your child, and lastly we’ll consider actual strategies you can employ at home to help raise an independent child while teaching your child how to manage their anxiety.

What To Look For

Anxiety can be tricky to identify because childhood symptoms of anxiety mirror what most adults would identify as “defiant behavior.”  Listed below are the most common signs of childhood anxiety:

  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Inattention, poor focus
  • Somatic symptoms like headaches or stomachaches
  • Avoidance
  • Tantrums
  • Crying
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Meltdowns before school about clothing, hair, shoes, socks
  • Meltdowns after school about homework
  • Difficulties with transitions within school, and between school and an activity/sport
  • Difficulty settling down for bed
  • Having high expectations for school work, homework and sports performance

Do any of these sound familiar? If so, know that anxiety disorders are highly treatable! If you have some concern about your child’s behavior, consider meeting with a therapist so that we can evaluate, diagnose, and ultimately determine which mode of treatment your child would benefit from, if any. Therapists can teach parents and children strategies to help your child manage their anxiety. One area that a therapist will review with you, is setting expectations.

It is important that you have the same expectations of your anxious child that you would have of another child. Therefore, doing things like, attending birthday parties, making decisions, talking to adults are important lessons for children with anxiety to learn and master. Please understand though, that the pace will need to be slower for your anxious child and that larger end goal ought to be broken up into smaller, more manageable goals. You can assist your child break down big tasks into smaller steps that your child can accomplish (first go to the party with your child and let them know that you will stay as long as your child is engaging with others, next time stay for the first half hour). Additionally, you might consider role-playing or acting out possible ways your child could handle realistic and  difficult situations. Saying it out loud makes children more confident and more likely to try new tools when your child is alone. Let’s consider what supporting your child might look like more concretely.

How to Support Your Child

As parents there are a few strategies that you can employ which will not only support your child – but will keep you calm amidst the learning process as well. Specific techniques are listed below:

  • Stay calm when your child becomes anxious about a situation or event
  • Remind your child that you believe in them – to build their confidence
  • Teach them to problem-solve
  • Be flexible, but try to maintain a normal routine
  • Recognize and praise small accomplishments
  • Create a calming box so that they can learn to self-soothe at home
  • Plan for transitions (For example, allow extra time in the morning if getting to school is difficult)
  • Practice “naming” and “taming” their emotions through role-play
  • Remind your child that “practice makes progress” – don’t punish mistakes or lack of progress
  • Setting aside “worry time” each evening for your child to share their worries from earlier in the day
  • Desensitize your child to triggers of anxiety by taking small steps

Lastly, I invite you to change the lens through which you see your anxious child. Children with anxiety experience symptoms that often times look like tantrums, which are hard to tolerate for everyone involved. Consider instead that your child simply does not yet have the social/emotional tools to manage their internal distress. You can be filled with abundant hope knowing that your child is capable of not only learning new strategies to manage their anxiety but flourishing as well.

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