You’ve never had to be an expert on childhood anxiety before! Here’s a quick guide for beginning the process of helping your child.
Recently, we posted a blog about the warning signs of childhood anxiety. For many of you, it may have been eye-opening and helpful just to be able to name what’s going on for your kids. Maybe once it was named, you knew better how to talk to them about it and who to reach out to for help.
Maybe you read it and could identify what’s going on for your child but feel clueless and scared about what to do next.
That’s okay too!
You’ve never had to be an expert in childhood anxiety before. You’ve likely never had more than an entry level psychology class, if that!
Also, it is highly likely that you may have missed several of the cues because you yourself have them too and thought it was normal.
Again – That’s okay! You know now what you see and it’s time to learn more.
As with so many things in parenting, we learn as we go and become experts on things that matter to our kids and their well-being, but we often don’t know what those things are until they hit.
I never knew the words of the Sesame Street Alphabet song until my son requested I sing it on repeat every day before he was two years old. You better believe I know every word, every pitch, every extra sound and motion now.
It’s funny what we learn as parents. I bet there are many of you who are so well acquainted with little league baseball rules when you never hit a ball in your life. Or maybe your child has loved dinosaurs, dance, construction, Pokemon cards, princesses or art.
It’s likely you’ve learned whole sets of new vocabulary and skills you never dreamed of four times over by now. You’ve probably purchased books or toys you never intended to purchase to support their dreams or ideas or loves.
It’s a beautiful thing we do as parents, really. We learn to love what they love and support them as they go, in ways we never dreamed.
It’s the same when they are sick too, just scarier.
I have a friend whose daughter was diagnosed with an illness they’d never heard of recently and she was quoting research articles to me less than a week later. We scour books, talks to experts and other parents, and google google google. I’ve done it and I know you have too. We want and need to know what’s going on with our kids.
Somehow, mental health can get overlooked on these things. Like it’s not just as important or necessary or stunting the growth of our children at times.
One of my goals is to keep encouraging parents to take their children’s mental health seriously, even if others roll their eyes or think you’re overreacting.
As a parent and as a therapist, I know you’re reading along now because it does matter to you. I’m so thankful for that.
Be encouraged, friend. You are on the right path and we are here to help.
So, if you identified your son or daughter as someone struggling with anxiety in our recent blog, we know you may be just like the parent whose child loves baseball but you’ve never swung a bat.
As promised, we wanted to provide you with some sort of resource bank and interventions for what might help you and your kids both in this struggle.
We compiled this list with the help of several therapists in town as well as teachers and child experts.
1. Understand the illness – books, research, videos, friends, etc.
2. Listen calmly and be comforting
3. Practice relaxation techniques and deep breathing (Example – listening to your heartbeat, counting your breath, blowing bubbles, muscle tightening and relaxing. These can be practiced anywhere, anytime!)
4. Call the problem by a name so the child knows they are not the problem (i.e. The Worry Monster)
5. Decrease amount of time children watch the news
6. Increase bonding time with your child – focus on connecting not correcting.
7. Consider seeking therapy (Individual and group can be beneficial for anxiety, but the most highly recommended is family therapy. Parental involvement in the therapeutic process with children is proven to greatly reduce childhood anxiety.)
8. Visit your pediatrician
9. Encourage, encourage, encourage your child!
(A note – Parental intervention strategies at home are fantastic, but in heightened times of marital strife in the home, anxiety may come from the parents. In this case, it could be that the parents need therapy first.)
Resources to Help with the Interventions
- Freeing Your Child From Anxiety by Tamar Chamsky
- “Elmo Belly Breathing” Video INSERT THIS LINK (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mZbzDOpylA)
- Why Smart Kids Worry: And What Parents Can Do To Help by Allison Edwards
- Child’s Mind: Mindfulness Practices to Help Our Children Be More Focused, Calm, and Relaxed by Christopher Willard
- I Can Relax! A Relaxation CD for Children by Dr. Donna Pincus
Remember: some fear is normal. We all have a little bit of fear at different times in life as we go. In this world, there are real things to be nervous about at times.
For instance, feeling a little sick on the first day of school from nerves is totally normal. Missing the entire first week due to an anxious belly? Not so much.
As a general rule, we’re looking at how rigid or flexible a child is with those fears and worries.
Also, as a note, all parents want to fix their child’s anxiety. Totally fix it. That’s normal and also not entirely realistic.
If you stop and really compare the difference between people who have tried to “fix” your problems over the years and people who have just been present with you, listened, cared, and encouraged you toward healing, wouldn’t we all agree the latter is the person who helps most consistently over time?
So, please accept this encouragement from my heart to yours – Keep showing up for your sons and daughters. Keep noticing them, being present, taking time for them, tending to their needs. There is nothing more important you’ll do with and for them.
Also, give yourself compassion and grace for this as you go.
Practice, practice, practice.
Practice reading new books to learn the vocabulary. Practice slowing down and being present. Practice the things you learn when you read. Practice belly breathing with them or naming your emotions to tame them.
If you had never swung a baseball bat and now know everything there ever is about little league and the major leagues because your child loves it, I know you didn’t learn it the first day. It took time. This will too.
In time, you’ll know the lingo, notice the signals, and be well-versed in it all. I know it.
Until then, be kind to yourself as you learn and seek help where you need it.
This learning and growing and seeking will not be in vain.
It may be 20 years before your child knows the words to thank you for learning about their anxiety struggles and seeking help for them at a young age.
I assure you, you are changing their lives and the world, one day at a time.
As always, we are glad to be on this healing journey with you.
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