Parenting Kids Through AnxietyMar 17, 2022
Are your kids struggling with anxiety? With everything that’s going on in the world, many people are experiencing heightened emotions. Our kids easily pick up on the emotions around them, so it’s not surprising that your kids might be experiencing more anxiety right now too.
And, you might be finding that it’s coming up in completely unexpected areas — which is completely normal. When we are experiencing a feeling, our brain will search for additional evidence as to why we should have that feeling. Our brains want to be right about our thoughts, more than they want us to feel better.
I just had a mom tell me that her son was anxious about going back to school after vacation. He was talking about how the other kids didn’t like him. The mom was surprised, because she knows he has a number of good friends in his class.
Have you ever noticed how when you’re feeling anxious, your brain searches for additional things in your life that you should be anxious about? Given current events you might start with a general underlying feeling of anxiety over the state of the world, but then your brain looks at what’s going on with your kids and why you should be anxious about them, it then takes you to your parents and their health and why you should be anxious about them, or it looks to work and job security to see if you should be anxious about that too.
Your brain wants to be right about why you should be feeling anxious, more than it wants you to feel better. Again, this is normal and it’s what our brains are designed to do. It’s why things that were fine before might now be causing your child anxiety as their brain searches for additional reasons to be anxious.
As I was coaching the Mom with the anxious son, I explained what our brains are wired to do and why he was likely feeling anxious about school. I then asked her what her thoughts were when her son told her he was anxious — She had a couple: one was I need to fix this and the other was I did this to him (as she struggles with anxiety herself).
Have you had similar thoughts? I am highlighting them because I think these thoughts are very common to many parents whose children experience anxiety and there are a couple of problems with this line of thinking.
When you are thinking that your child’s anxiety is a problem that you’re responsible for or that you need to fix, you’re likely experiencing anxiety and/or guilt. Think about how you parent when you are feeling anxious or guilty. You might become short, you might just start telling your child why they shouldn’t be anxious, you likely do more talking and less listening, you’re not asking questions, you’re not as calm, and you’re not parenting most effectively.
And when you tell your child all the reasons why they shouldn’t be anxious, they are more likely to shut down and it usually makes things worse.
I invite you to consider the thought that your child’s anxiety is not a problem. When we teach our kids that they are going to experience anxiety at times in their lives and that it’s normal to experience anxiety, this alone can help make them and YOU less anxious. Normalizing anxiety prepares your child for dealing with anxiety throughout their life.
Accepting how we feel helps us start processing the feeling so it will start to decrease. It’s when we resist the feeling or think that we shouldn’t be feeling a specific way that we stay stuck in the heightened feeling.
So what do you do? Here are 4 things that you can do to help your child with anxiety:
- You tell your child it’s totally normal to be anxious at times, and that it happens to you too.
- You give them a big bear hug because a hug will help your child’s body naturally release oxytocin and serotonin which will help counteract the anxiety.
- Recommend that they focus on their breathing when they’re feeling that way. I was taught by a 6 year old friend that it’s like smelling the flowers and blowing out the candles. Breathing in through your nose for a count of 4 like you’re smelling flowers, and blowing out through your mouth like you’re blowing out a candle for a count of 8 will help your body relax. Repeat 4 times or as long as needed.
- And most importantly, work on managing your own emotions. You can’t help your child deal with their anxiety, when you’re stuck in your own anxiety.
If this is an area where you struggle, I encourage you to check out my Parenting From Neutral program. I have a process for helping parents get out of anxiety, frustration and overwhelm, because you can’t help your kids with their heightened emotions when you are dealing with your own. When you are parenting from neutral, you remain calm, in control and connected to your kids so you can parent much more effectively.
Learn more at melpeirce.com and while you’re there grab the Parent’s Power Questions Guide to learn the fastest and easiest way to start parenting better through the power of questions.
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