How to Respect Feelings WITHOUT Empowering Fears: [Read This if Your Kiddo has Anxiety]
If you have an anxious kiddo, it can be difficult to know what to say or do to help support them. IF we ourselves are anxious - the ol’ “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” - it can make this even more challenging. While we have the best of intentions, our own worries can get in the way or possibly make a situation worse.
When working with families, I’ll usually clarify with parents whether the anxious situations they’re describing (about friends, school etc..) is more their child’s worry OR their own.
Many times this pause and reflection allows parents to realize the worry is actually their own - worrying about the child’s friends, success in school, embarrassment in front of family members, or very public melt-downs.
When it is the child’s anxiety, we want to have strategies and tools to help them cope. I recently came across an article by Clark Goldstein, PhD that nicely summarized the strategies I use daily when supporting both children who are anxious and their families. These tools can encourage us to respond rather than react:
The goal isn’t to eliminate anxiety, but to help a child manage & work through it.
Don’t avoid things just because they make a child anxious, this reinforces the anxiety over the long-run.
Express positive but realistic expectations about their fears, it’s okay to use logic in challenging these thoughts.
Respect/validate their feelings and fears without agreeing with them.
Ask open-ended questions to encourage your kids to talk more about their feelings, not fears.
Remain aware of your body language/tone of voice when discussing fears - so we don’t reinforce them.
Encourage a child to tolerate their anxiety, recognizing & sharing how difficult this must be for them.
Try to keep the anticipatory period short, when kids are afraid of something the hardest time is before they do it.
Think & talk things through with the child, exploring “what if” situations about their worry & what would happen.
Teach & model healthy ways to cope with anxiety by sharing strategies you use. In fact, here’s another great (and printable) resource with a variety of Coping Tools.
Again, these strategies can help empower us as we support the children we love so much!
It’s difficult to see our kids struggle - sometimes in ways we don’t even understand. Yet these tips allow for a shift in our mindset, looking at what we can control (our thoughts, choices and behaviors) instead of what we cannot control (others’ thoughts, choices, and behaviors).
Responding to their worries is the key, rather than reacting or infusing our own worries.
After all, when a child is OUT of control, this is when they need the adults in their lives to be most IN control.
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]