So, your child has opened up to you about feelings of anxiousness and you’re wondering where to go from here. You want to be understanding and compassionate to your child, but you don’t want to reinforce their fears and continue the anxious cycle. While every child is different and the specific cause of their anxiety might alter the way it is dealt with, this list is a good starting point for parents that have little to no experience with anxiety in children.
Thank Them for Trusting You
While parents and children should constantly practice being both grateful and apologetic to each other when necessary, thanking your child is never more important than when they open up to you about a difficult and personal topic. Some children might not feel like they have a healthy enough relationship with their parent to be able to open up about difficult topics, so encouraging and rewarding that behaviour is key.
Start an Open Dialogue
Sit down with them and thoroughly talk through their emotions. Asking questions like, “When and where do you start to feel anxious?” and “Is there something that happens to make you feel this way?” can help you start to piece the puzzle together. The goal here is not to diagnose them but to learn more about their specific triggers, as this often helps determine how you might proceed.
Ask Them How You Can Help Them
There are many healthy ways to help your child cope with anxiety; allowing them to talk about their emotions with you is a great start, as it confirms that they are not alone in this. Another way to help is to keep anticipation of an anxious event to a minimum. For example, if your child is feeling anxious about presenting a project in class, try not to speak to them about this for hours at a time, but rather, keep it short and keep them busy with other things.
There are many different types of anxiety and learning as much as you can about them can help you to empathize and understand your child better. A quick internet search will teach you about generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, specific phobias, panic disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is important to not get caught up in categorizing your child into one of these types but to try to understand what each type is about and how people cope with it.
Speak to Teachers
If the cause of your child’s anxiety is rooted within school, talking to their teachers might be an option. Find out if there is a way for your child to complete an assignment, test or presentation with the least amount of anxiety possible. Examples of this could include allotting more time for your child to write tests, or presenting an assignment in front of the teacher only, rather than the whole class. Note that this is not a long-term solution, but just another way to get your child through stressful situations while they learn to cope and manage their anxiety on their own.
Ask Your Child If Seeing a Therapist or Doctor Would Help
In some cases, your child might want to seek professional help. This is especially true for teens or young adults still living at home. If it is feasible for your family, help your child cover the costs of mental health treatment, as it can get quite expensive. If not, your family doctor should be able to refer your child to some free mental health services. Try not to rule out medication completely. This, along with cognitive-behavioural therapy, can be a very useful tool to help manage severe anxiety until your child can learn how to do so themselves.
Talk About Ways to Manage, Tolerate, and Cope with Their Feelings
Anxiety is a natural emotion; it is not something that we can cure. Your child will have to learn how to tolerate those anxious feelings for the rest of their life. Tell your child that there are ways to continue doing anxiety-inducing things without all of the anxiety. Pushing yourself to do something, even if it makes you uncomfortable, is one of the best ways to decrease anxiety over time. Encouraging your child to practice techniques like deep belly breathing, self-soothing affirmations, and sensory grounding can help them get through anxious situations.
Allow for Breaks
A lot of people forget to practice self-love when they are managing mental health issues. Anxiety, like any other issue, is incredibly exhausting to deal with. Remind your child to be patient and forgiving with themselves. Push them to do things that scare them but allow for those days where they are just too scared to do it. Allow your child to take a break, even if it means staying home from school one day. Practice self-care with your child by doing something they enjoy, like pampering yourselves or having a movie night. Being kind to ourselves is the key to maintaining our mental health.