Anxious kids are a different breed. If you are parenting an anxious child you know what I am talking about. Perhaps this realization dawned on you when you watched your friends interact with their children. What seemed to work for them – completely backfired for you.
If you are parenting an anxious child you know that your normal parenting tricks aren’t going to work with this one. Here are nine big parenting no-nos that probably work really well with your other kids!
In my child therapy practice couples who are parenting an anxious child will often tell me things like, “I don’t get it. Everything that worked with our other kids won’t work with our anxious kid.”
You can throw your regular parenting book out the window – you need a completely different playbook when parenting an anxious child.
Let’s countdown the 9 biggest No-Nos when parenting an anxious child:
Each child is unique – even anxious kids. Some of these might actually work with your anxious kiddos – but in GENERAL these approaches are much less likely to work on an anxious mind.
1. RUSHING YOUR CHILD
You want to see anxious children have complete meltdowns – tell them to hurry up. Most anxious kids completely implode when we tell them to speed up. I can bark at two of my kids to hurry up and they’ll get moving. If I did that to my third child – we’d have to tack on 30 more minutes to allow for the meltdown that will ensue. Sound familiar?
2. SINK OR SWIM
Many parents feel they just need to throw their kids into a feared situation and the kids will do fine. Kind of like the sink or swim mentality. Anxious kids will sink. They will plummet to the deepest darkest depths and will not come up for air.
3. SET A TIMER
A great parenting approach for time management might include a timer. Such as, “when the timer goes off it is time for you to stop playing your video game.” A timer is a ticking time bomb for anxious children. Instead of speeding them up – they will ruminate over the clock and will probably explode into tears or screams long before the buzzer sounds.
4. MAKE A RACE OF IT
Similar to the timer – any type of time-limiting approach is most likely not going to work. Anxious kids get overwhelmed with time limits. Timed tests. Timed activities. None of those go down well. Trying to make things fun with comments such as, “who can get there first?” can turn an anxious child into a puddle of a tears.
5. TELL THEM ABOUT THE FUN THEY’LL MISS
Your anxious child doesn’t want to go to a party. They don’t like crowds or new social situations. You tell them they are going to miss out on all the fun.
Telling your anxious child what fun they’ll miss if they don’t go won’t work. They know they are missing the fun. It upsets them more than maybe you know. Reminding them of what they’ll miss out on will just increase their anxiety.
Instead, address the fear that is driving the behavior. Talk about how they can handle the new social situation and give them tools to get through it.
6. FOOD BATTLES
You want to see an anxious child throw up? Have a food battle with him or her. Drawing a line in the sand will result in a loss for both of you. You’ll be frustrated and your children will never again touch whatever food you are trying to metaphorically (hopefully) shove down their throat.
My twelve year old still won’t touch broccoli due to a food battle she had with a relative when she was three. The tongue never forgets!
Anxious kids can be picky eaters due to oral sensitivities and the fear of new foods. Encourage your children to eat new things. Place new foods on their plate. But, don’t make mealtime a battle zone.
7. PUNISHING YOUR CHILD FOR TOILETING ISSUES
Some anxious kids are slow to potty train. Older kids might fear pooping (yes, that is a thing) and may avoid pooping at all costs. This can cause constipation and conversely accidents. I know this can be a gross and frustrating parenting issue. But shaming, blaming or punishing this behavior will not fix it. Address the fear – not the behavior.
8. SCARE THEM INTO BEHAVING
Parents will use facts to help their children do things they would otherwise not do. Brush your teeth or they’ll fall out! Hold my hand or you’ll get hit by a car! Put a helmet on or you’ll crack your head open.
I know these things have flown out of my mouth at times. I also know that sometimes I say the wrong scary thing and I have to do damage control for weeks afterwards.
Try to focus on more positive statements. Brush your teeth and make them sparkly clean. Hold my hand so I can make sure to keep you safe.
9. ALL OR NOTHING RESPONSES
Anxious behavior can sometimes be mislabeled as oppositional. Anxious kids might completely freak out when told no. This can be misconstrued as spoiled and entitled behavior – but in reality anxious kids can’t handle the concept of no. They can’t handle the finality of no.
Speaking in absolute terms typically doesn’t go down well with anxious kids. When possible, focus on when they can do it or when they can have it – even if it is far away.
Tell them things like, “You can have that for your birthday” or “you can have that after dinner.” You can even motivate them with comments like, “You can save up your money and get it.”
Now having said that – sometimes “no” will just be “no.” Just like other kids, anxious kids need to learn how to handle not always getting what they want. In reality, sometimes there is no future “yes” to your answer.
Parenting any child can be a struggle. Parenting an anxious child can make your head swirl.
Have strategies that work and don’t work in your home? Leave a comment and share with the rest of us!
Do you know families that are parenting an anxious child? Share this article and offer them support.
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