I had the pleasure of interviewing child therapist, Natasha Daniels, about four common questions about anxious children. Check out her wonderful insight below.
1. Do toddlers really have anxiety? Isn’t it just a phase or developmental stage to be fearful or worried?
Yes, toddlers are fearful little people and it is normal for them to have many fears. However, when a toddler has a hard time functioning because of their fears – it is more likely anxiety.
Anxiety has a genetic component and can run in families. If other family members have anxiety or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – their children and even their young children are at a higher risk of developing it too.
Many parents have a wait and see approach to their young child’s anxious behavior. Often parents will wait until their children are school aged and in the throes of anxiety to seek out help.
When children are given tools to fight their fears at an early age – the long term prognosis for anxiety greatly improves. It is never too early to start helping children overcome their worries.
2. In your new book, you talk about the need for middle-of-the-road parenting to help an anxious child. Can you tell us what you mean by that?
Anxious kids are sensitive creatures and need a particular parenting style to thrive. When parents are overly accommodating or alternatively overly punitive – the child’s anxiety can worsen.
Sometimes parents identify too strongly with their child’s struggles and want to shield them from any suffering. Unfortunately this may include accommodating their anxiety and helping them avoid situations instead of encouraging them to fight their fears.
On the flip side, there are parents that do not get anxiety and feel like their child is just misbehaving. These parents take a more punitive approach to their child’s fears. This can be a frustrating parenting style – because when the problem is anxiety – no amount of discipline is going to change the behavior.
Finding the middle-of-the-road parenting style is key for the anxious child. This can be a hard balance to find for most parents.
3. Is it a parent’s imagination or do kids get more anxious at bedtime? How do we get through the bedtime routine with an anxious child?
Bedtime is typically the hardest part of the day for anxious kids. Recently my anxious six year old said, “Bedtime is the most stressful part of my day.” I thought that was a sad, but true comment for most anxious kids.
The key is to have an open dialogue about what scares them the most at night. It helps to alter the room to reduce any nighttime fears and to help them develop some visual imagery to tire their brain to sleep.
4. Even the most adoring, dedicated parents sometimes find themselves exhausted from helping a child experiencing anxiety. Any tips to help parents rejuvenate?
Parenting is exhausting. Parenting an anxious child is completely depleting. Watching a child panic and struggle can make a parent feel hopeless. The key is to remember that this is your child’s struggle. As a parent, all you can do is offer assistance and support – but you cannot fix it.
If you have a supportive spouse, friend or relative, use them as a sounding board to help you work through your own feelings of frustration and concern.
Know your limits. If taking your child into an anxiety-producing situation triggers your own anxiety – don’t be afraid to hand it off to your spouse or relative. Your child needs an anchor during those times. If you aren’t up to the challenge – it is okay. You don’t have to fly solo.
Have an anxious child? Get tips, animations, meditations and more at www.gozen.com