When I ask a child with anxiety what helps reduce stress and anxiety, the answer I get most often is, “I try to get my mind off of it.” This lets me know that I have my work cut out for me.
When people talk about helping a child with anxiety, they will talk about skill building tools such as relaxing the body, taking deep breaths, and staying in the moment. These are all wonderful tools, but I find without teaching kids how to battle their anxiety, it is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.
If you have a kid with anxiety, teach your child how to battle. Now that might not sound very calming, but neither is anxiety. Your kid is in a mental war every day. If you don’t arm kids with ways to fight back, they will be in constant battles. Empower your kids.
The one thing all kids with anxiety should do is fight back
You can help them do this by:
Naming their anxiety
Help your anxious kids see their anxiety as an enemy they are trying to defeat. In my book, Anxiety Sucks! A Teen Survival Guide, I teach kids to externalize their anxiety and give it a name – like a Dictator – because you know, it is kinda like a big bully.
Learning anxiety’s tricks
Teach your kids how anxiety works. Let your kids know that their Dictator likes to set off false alarms. That he likes to give them red thoughts (negative thoughts) to make them panic and worry. The truth is, he doesn’t know what he is talking about!
Ask your kids what their Dictator is telling them? What are the red thoughts being thrown their way? If they can’t tell you – ask them when they are anxious, “What is the worst thing that can happen?” This will give you a window into their red thoughts.
Developing thought weapons
Tell your kids that they have a choice to either invite their Dictator’s red thoughts into their mind for a long chat or they can fight back with their own green thoughts (positive thoughts). If their Dictator tells them they will throw up at school – they need to counterattack with a thought such as, “I never have before, so why would I now?” This internal battle can last a while, so it is good if your kids have plenty of green thoughts in their arsenal.
Ask your kids to come up with some green thoughts. If they are coming up empty help them out. Just be cautious to not spoon-feed them too many green thoughts. The most effective green thoughts are those that kids come up with themselves.
Teaching them the avoidance trap
Teach your kids that their Dictator wants them to avoid: Avoid school. Avoid what makes them nervous. Avoid challenges. The quickest way to shrink their Dictator and make him quiet is to NOT avoid. This can be hard to do, but every time your kids face their anxiety, their anxiety loses power.
Teaming up with your kids, not their anxiety
Partner with your kids to beat anxiety. Let your kids know that you are there for them. Encourage green thoughts. Help them battle red thoughts. Try to empower your kids to face their anxiety and not avoid anxiety-producing situations.
The rest is gravy
When you teach your kids how to battle anxiety, the rest is gravy. You are cutting off the head of the beast; all the other skills will supplement this major tool.
What’s your best weapon against anxiety? Share in the comments below. Do you know others raising a child with anxiety? Share this article with them!