Whilst anxiety can be a normal response to the fears and worries that present themseles to our children, there is also evidence of increasing instances of debilitating anxiety which is preventing our children from enjoying all that life has to offer. In my previous post we discussed what was normal when it came to our children’s anxiety and looked at the instances whereby anxiety was becoming an issue and hence something we may need to address in order to help our children with their coping skills.
Some of the strategies we as parents can use to help and prevent further anxiety are:
Try not to make too big a deal of situations that may cause your child distress as this can add to their anxiety.
I have counselled many adolescents whose anxiety is often fed by well meaning parents who are trying to protect their child from further distress. Children however are very good at feeding off the emotions of their parents and hence if you believe that there is something to be afraid of, chances are your child is going to sense that fear and the challenges will be compounded. So don’t go on a holiday down the road from your children’s school camp destination. This is telling your child that whilst they may be anxious about camp, you have taken steps to catch them if they fall. You are in effect saying ‘”you do have something to fear, which is why I am going to ensure that you have a safety net at your disposal”. It is more than likely therefore that they will use that safety net…and expect one to be there every time.
Acknowledge a childs fears and anxieties, but try to focus on any positive steps they may be taking and encourage them to take small steps towards facing some of their fears. This may mean trying to get them to attempt part of an activity, such as joining in with a training session for 15 minutes, playing one game at a party or sitting on a swing without swinging, just so they can begin to be aware of the unlikelihood of their fears becoming a reality. Praise them when they are able to make these achievements and remind them that whilst this was something they may have been anxious about, they were able to prove to themselves that it wasn’t as bad as they may have first thought.
Avoid labelling your child as shy or anxious as again this reinforces the behaviours you expect of them.
Don’t punish your child when they fail at their attempt rather try to move on and discuss ways of doing something differently next time. Some people like to role-play situations so that they are better prepared for outcomes. This can be a great strategy, but be careful not to go overboard so that it remains the focus of all their thinking.
Talk to your child about times you have been anxious– if you can relate an experience where you were nervous, anxious or fearful to your child and how you overcame it, then they are more likely to realise that it is OK to talk about their anxiety and vocalise what it is they are afraid of happening.
For separation anxiety this can be quite distressing for parents when they walk away from child care and hear only the heartbreaking wails of abandonment from their young. Most of the time you will find that they are good as gold by the time you have started the engine in your car, but again there are things to help both you and your child make this transition smoother:
- Tell your child you are leaving and when you will be back.
- Despite the temptation to sneak out, try not to as this can add to the fear and will mean they are more clingy next time and less prepared to let you out of their sight.
- Make the goodbye quick and don’t drag it out with long explanations they have no way of grasping nor are capable of rationalising
- If you are dropping them somewhere, allow them to take something from home such as a teddy or blanket. These items will gradually phase out as they become more comfortable with the setting.
- Also spend a little time with them at the initial visit so they have memories of it being a safe and fun place to be left.
Remember that some anxiety is a normal part of your children’s development, it is estimated however that between 10-20% of kids experience anxiety more intensely and more often than others which can have an impact on a childrens ability to get the most out of life.
If your child suffers a more debilitating form of anxiety and professional help is required, one of the things they may do and which you can attempt to do yourself is gradual exposure or the stepladder technique.
So stay tuned for the next post where we will look more closely at how you can implement this technique for yourself.