We live in an anxiety-ridden world. Fast paced lives, rising pressures, and excessive worries have taken a prominent position in the way we journey through life. We rush to complete all of our responsibilities, work longer hours, and push our children to do and achieve more than they ever have before.
One might think with the technological advances and progress of recent years, life would be easier. Just the opposite seems to be occurring. Life satisfaction and levels of happiness are decreasing, and stress has a huge role in that. More and more people are suffering from anxiety disorders and depression. More and more of our children are struggling with overwhelming worry.
My heart pains for children who feel out of control and smothered by worries. It is seizing. It is debilitating. It is interrupting and disrupting. It is a parent’s prerogative to help these children learn to navigate life in a functional and resilient manner.
Professional help When a child is suffering from anxiety, there is no time for messing around. I encourage parents to let go of “handling this on our own” and reach out for professional help. The faster anxiety is dealt with, the better. Locating a therapist who specializes in childhood anxiety will provide you and your child with tricks and tools for maneuvering through and managing anxiety.
Awareness Helping children become aware of the feelings inside them can help them identify when they are feeling anxious. A child’s feelings are not to be ignored. When a child hears, “Don’t worry about it.” – it does little to alleviate his apprehensive feelings. Use drawing, journaling, and talking to address the feelings within. Avoid teaching your child to stuff his feelings inside or that something is wrong with him because of his feelings.
Through the years, our family has collected tools to help our children remain aware of their feelings. There are plenty of emotion charts available for free online. A stress barometer can help children assess whether their worry is a little worry, a medium worry, or a serious worry. Use pictures in magazines or books to talk about feelings.
Relaxation Relaxation techniques are powerful tools for moving through anxiety. Given the levels of stress in today’s society, relaxation should be a class that is taught in school. Tools to help your child learn to relax might include: breathing exercises, yoga poses, or listening to meditations created for children. It is important to make these things a part of your child’s normal routine and not just when panic sets in.
Now, more than ever, parents are devoting time to their children’s happiness. Gracious children are happier. Resilient children move through stressful situations with greater ease. We can give our children access to higher levels of happiness and joy. A gratitude journal is a simple way to increase positive emotions. Volunteering or doing things for others expands compassion. Sharing stories of children who have overcome extreme difficulties are a source of inspiration.
Modeling We are all affected by stress and it is important to acknowledge it and face it. We do our children a disservice when we do not manage our own tension. It benefits them greatly when they see the ways we take care of ourselves. This is more important than ever. First, parents must recognize and acknowledge the stress in their lives. Then, they must address it and identify ways to relieve the tension. If our children see that this is an important element in our lives, it will become important in their lives.
Develop routines Your anxious child needs to feel in control, and a consistent schedule is something that she can rely upon. Be leery of overscheduling her to keep her busy. Develop specific solutions for those times when the routine must be interrupted. Feeling in control helps a child feel safe.
Self care Taking care of ourselves is another subject that should be taught in school and in the home. We tend to neglect the “whole” person because we are so busy tackling our daily to do lists. Teaching your child to pay attention to his needs and to take care of himself will have a positive impact on his stress levels. This includes eating properly, getting enough sleep, and going outside to play.
Control As mentioned above, the feeling of control is important to an anxious child. It is our duty to help them gain back their sense of power. When our children learn that they are in control of their emotional reactions to events, they learn to take back their power. Different techniques can help with this depending on your child’s age. A local psychologist who worked with one of my sons helped him to identify the “director” in his head. When an emotional event came up, that director would take over. My son learned to work with the director and to guide the director so that he did not get caught up in the director’s anxiety. Other children have referred to this inner voice as the “worry brain”.
Martin Seligman has written several books on happiness and optimism that are helpful tools for parents who are trying to support their children by reducing their anxiety.
Anxiety arises when we feel helpless, out of control, or fearful. The tension in our world is here to stay. Parents must adjust their in-home training and modeling to address issues of stress and anxiety management. Given the proper tools and awareness, our children will learn to maneuver through life feeling confident of being able to handle whatever comes their way.