How do you normally deal with your anxious child?
Do you watch your child’s anxiety build, or only notice it once it has built?
At the same time do you notice your anxiety building or only notice it once it has built?
Whether you realize it, or not, your child will be picking up on your anxiety levels. They will also have a series of thoughts running in their head which may be to do with them feeling out of control in one or more areas of their life.
The first thing to do in any situation when you notice your child is anxious is to check in with yourself to see how you are feeling. Then, breathe. Calm yourself down. Slow down your mind and your actions. Only when you’re calm and unemotional can you support your child the way they need.
If your child is ‘over-reacting’, it’s OK
You might be thinking that your child is over-reacting or over-emotional when they become anxious. And, they probably are. They have such a story going on in their head that they built on and it causes an emotional response. The bigger the story, the greater the emotional response.
It’s okay for them to be emotional. Your child’s reactions are theirs; their business. How you react to them when they’re like this, that’s your business.
Ask them to slow down and notice what’s going on in their mind, what they’re thinking? What you’ll notice is they will quickly tell you what they are fearful of, for example. They will see themselves in the future, late for school. Or maybe, see themselves without any friends. And they will have imagined what their best friend is going to say to them “No, I don’t want to play with you today.”
As adults, we often fear emotional reactions, and yet our emotional responses are simply our reactions to what we’re thinking in that moment. We believe what we are telling ourselves: believe it. So, don’t fear your child’s emotional outbursts. The best thing they can do IS express how they are feeling.
Happy and healthy children feel comfortable expressing their emotions. It may feel downright uncomfortable for you when they show you how they’re feeling. And that’s for you to notice. Finding out what has triggered the emotional reaction is the key.
Talk to your child about what they’re anxious about
They may feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to deal with a friendship issue they are having at school. They could be feeling overwhelmed about something happening at school, or a new subject they are learning that they don’t fully understand. Often they don’t feel comfortable expressing that they don’t know, or don’t understand for fear of being seen as dumb or stupid.
For younger children this is true, especially when they see someone else, their best friend, for example, doing that thing with ease. They will be comparing themselves to others, either their friends or siblings.
Stop for a moment and think about how you saw yourself when you were their age? What sort of internal dialogue did you have going on when you couldn’t do something?
It would be valuable to get in touch with that and ask your child what they are thinking about themselves. Share how you saw yourself and what you used to say to yourself at those times.
Explaining this creates a connection with your child and at the same time isn’t focusing on their fear of failure in any way, nor criticising them. Doing this will also create a bond that will have your child feel more willing to share their feelings with you. What’s really going on for them!
This article was first published in the Feb/Mar 2017 edition of Mamamag