by: Natasha Daniels
Raising a child with anxiety can be like walking a tightrope. A tightrope that nobody else can see. A tightrope that nobody else can even understand. When your child has anxiety, simple day-to-day activities can be a struggle. Things that other children do on autopilot – like going to school, going to bed or going to the doctor – can feel like an insurmountable hurdle for your child.
Often typical parenting approaches do not work with anxious kids. So where to start? In my child therapy practice I tell parents to start with these five basic suggestions.
Decipher what is anxiety and what is behavior?
When parents have a hard time understanding anxiety, I will hear sentences like:
She is just manipulating us.
She does those things just because it is a habit. She can stop at any time.
He just wants his way.
It is important to try and differentiate what is your child’s anxiety and what is just behavior. This can be tricky because often they look the same. If the behavior is caused by the anxiety – typical parenting approaches will not work. If they won’t sleep because they are deathly afraid of the dark – no amount of punishing is going to make them sleep. Their fears need to be addressed – not their behavior.
Give you and your child language to discuss their anxiety.
Talking about anxiety can be uncomfortable for some children, but communication is key to helping them. Talk to your child about naming their anxiety. For younger children you can suggest names like Mr. Worry, Mr. Bossy – or something specifically related to their fears like “Mr. Germs.” For older kids you can use terms like “My little dictator.” You can read my article on how to utilize this approach to help your child fight their fears.
Keep your intense emotions out of your parenting.
Most anxious kids are emotional sponges. They soak up any and all emotions around them. They can be easily offended and misinterpret a stare as a glare – a tone as a shout. With that being said, your words fall on deaf ears when there is anger, frustration and annoyance behind them. Even a trace. Trust me – I know. So whenever possible – get into that Zen space and try to parent without too much negative emotion. I know it is easier said than done – we are all human. But I tell parents (and myself) even succeeding at this some of the time – is a step in the right direction.
Find the balance between enabling, empowering and pushing too hard.
Anxiety is not caused by poor parenting. There is a strong genetic component to anxiety. Having said that, your parenting style can exacerbate or diminish your child’s level of anxiety. Parenting an anxious child is not an easy feat – and parenting them is a tightrope that you will fall off of once in a while. I tell parents – always ask yourself – am I enabling their anxiety? Do I cater to their fears? Do I allow them to constantly avoid things that cause them anxiety without cheerleading them to fight their worries one small step at a time?
Or conversely, do I push them too hard. Force them to do things that they are not ready to do – causing them such panic that they throw up or get traumatized? Trying to find the balance can be a major challenge. A challenge that sometimes you may not meet. That I don’t always meet. But, one that should be constantly reassessed.
Believe in your child, not their anxiety.
Partner with your child, not their anxiety. This can sound like just a good sound bite – but there is sustenance to those words. Anxious children are constantly changing, fighting their fears, overcoming obstacles. Do not assume your child is not capable because they haven’t been in the past. My anxious children are constantly surprising me – teaching me to believe in them – not their anxiety.
Having a child with anxiety is a struggle, but you are not alone. Get support. Avoid blame – be it on yourself, your partner or your child. Empower your child to fight their anxiety and remember – life is a marathon not a sprint. Celebrate your child’s small successes – because it is those little steps that lead to big wins.
Check out this amazing new course called Crush Anxiety that will give you the skills to conquer your children’s anxiety from child therapist Natasha Daniels. If your kiddo is struggling with anxiety this course is crucial.
Natasha is a mother, child therapist and author of How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler. You can find Natasha talking about parenting on her site AnxiousToddlers.com or teaching parenting courses at curious.com. Come and join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.