Having a child with anxiety can be challenging. These kids are often so hesitant to try anything, and sometimes that anxiety can come out in crying, tantrums, nightmares, or bad behavior. Having to watch your child feel this way can make you feel powerless to help your child.
The good news is that you can help them. You, the parents, are an integral part of treating kids with anxiety. I’d venture to say that it might be the most important part. Which, in some ways, is a great thing – you can help your child feel better! You can help your child worry less! In other ways, it feels a little scary though. That’s a lot of pressure and responsibility. And the solution is NOT easy!
This is why: Parenting a child with anxiety asks you to go AGAINST your instincts as a parent. The solution asks you to let your child feel their anxiety. You can’t do what you feel like doing. You can’t step in and “fix it.” You have to fight your desire to take care of your child and instead you have to let them stand on their own two feet.
In fact, you can’t just let them feel anxious. You actually have to encourage them to feel anxious.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say your child doesn’t want to go to school because of their anxiety, and is crying and begging you not to make them go. In some ways, it can feel easier to keep your child home rather than deal with the crying. But in the long term, letting them stay home actually validates their anxiety and sends the message that you also believe that going to school is something that needs to be feared. It can result in making them more anxious. But if you calmly (even though they’re not feeling calm) validate their feelings and still have them go, even though it is difficult, in the long term, their fear will decrease. If you give in to their begging, their fear will continue to grow, and it will be even harder for them to go the next day (and the next!)
Kids get over anxiety by facing it and experiencing it. Putting them in a figurative bubble and protecting them from their fears is not going to help them in the long run. Kids will only learn to handle their fears by facing them. As much as people may understand this, it can be the hardest thing in the world to do in the moment! But if you keep this idea in mind, it will help your child learn how to face things that make them anxious and reduce their anxious feelings.