Parenting an anxious kid is like walking through a mine field. Explosions happen. You have to side step and walk around obstacles. You never know when the next crisis will be.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Anxious kids are also some of the most caring, empathetic children I know. I have to admit, they are my favorite little people.
The anxious kids I see (and the few I am raising) have taught me many things. We should never underestimate them. When we believe in them, they are more likely to believe in themselves.
In my child therapy practice I spend a large amount of time giving parents the tools to parent anxious kids and help them blossom. Below is a quick list of the best survival tips I teach:
PARTNER WITH YOUR CHILD – NOT THEIR ANXIETY
Name your child’s anxiety and work as a team to defeat it. In a perfect world you don’t want to accommodate the anxiety. As parents, it can be so hard to watch our children suffer. It is very tempting to help your child avoid anxiety-producing situations.
In the short run you are reducing your child’s stress, but in the long run they aren’t learning any coping mechanisms. The more children learn to fight their anxiety – the smaller their anxiety becomes.
Recently my 6 six year old named his worry a cloud. He said it blocked the sunshine. I thought that was a sad, but poignant comment. Each day I partner with him against the worry cloud. We joke, “It is the worry cloud again!” I encourage him with comments such as, “Fight that worry cloud – don’t let him be the boss of you!” Sometimes he beats the worry cloud and sometimes he doesn’t – but I always praise him for trying.
LEAVE YOUR EMOTION AT THE DOOR
Parenting an anxious kid can trigger an array of emotions. You can feel rage. Why can’t he just do it already? You can feel compassion. I don’t want him to suffer. You can feel anxiety. Will he ever get over this?
Unfortunately anxious kids are emotional sponges. They soak up whatever you are spilling. When you are angry it makes them shutdown. When you over identify with their anxiety – it can be crippling. When you feel anxious they get more anxious.
We need to be an anchor for our children as they go through their emotional storm. Try to remain calm – even if you are feeling like you want to pull your hair out or curl up into a ball and hide.
HAVE SMALL VICTORIES, NOT BIG FAILS
We want our children to sleep in their own beds. We want them to go to school without crying. We want them to go upstairs on their own.
Sometimes we can see the big goals, but forget that it is the little goals that get us there. Anxious children aren’t going to overcome their fears over night. They will need small challenges. Bite size victories.
Do not set your child up for failure by having them go out of their depth. The key to overcoming anxiety is success. The more successes your child can experience – the more empowered they will become.
PRAISE EFFORT DON’T HIGHLIGHT DEFEAT
When you believe in your child –they will believe in themselves. When your child is trying to fight their fears – praise their efforts. Let them know what they did well. Every word of encouragement goes a long way. It doesn’t matter if they didn’t accomplish the challenge. Did they try?
My youngest child is currently working through her swim fears. When we get ready for class she typically says, “I am scared.”
I tell her, “It is normal to be scared. When we do things that are tricky it can be scary. But you are brave. You used to not want to go in the water. But you fought your fears and now you do. You used to not be able to float by yourself. But you fought your fears and now you do. Last class you even jumped in all by yourself. You are so brave! You are a fighter!”
We usually end this with me chanting, “Brave face!” and her doing her super girl pose. I know we are weird, but it works.
HELP YOUR CHILD COMFORT THEMSELVES
When our children are scared it is our natural instinct to swoop in and provide them with words of encouragement. For instance, if our child says, “I don’t want to go to the party. What if no one talks to me?” We might quickly try to squash their fears with calming words such as, “You’ll have fun. There will be cake and games.”
When we give our kids our own thoughts it doesn’t stick. Trust me I know – in my early days of child therapy I came to that conclusion rather quickly. Kids retain thoughts they’ve come up with themselves.
You can encourage your kids to generate their own positive self-talk.
You can do this with comments like, “What’s something you can tell yourself to make you feel less nervous?” or “If no one talks to you – what can you do?”
The next time your child has the same anxiety – you can ask them, “What do you normally tell yourself?” This will build long lasting coping mechanisms.
This whole parenting thing can be a challenge. Parenting an anxious kid can feel completely overwhelming. Take it day by day and give yourself a break. This is your child’s journey, you are just there to support them and encourage them along the way.
Do you have some tips that work on your anxious child? Share in the comments.
If you know someone who can benefit from these tips – pass it on. Sharing is caring!
Want more parenting support? I have taken all of what I teach in my therapy practice and condensed it into 11 quick video lessons. Click below to take the course Parenting Anxious Kids:
Have a pre-schooler or toddler with anxiety? Read the only book solely dedicated to toddler anxiety, How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler
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