When children are chronically anxious, parents who do not want their child to suffer often inadvertently exacerbate their child’s anxiety. As parents, we try to anticipate the danger our children can get into and divert them from it. We try to anticipate our child’s fears and protect them. However, if we continuously shelter them from anxiety how could they ever learn to cope with it? Not all triggers can be avoided.
It is important to recognize that anxiety, or worry, has a purpose. It is a protection mechanism that helps us survive danger. It is something everyone experiences at some point. There are instances, however, when our system sets off false alarms. We may worry even when it is not certain that there is something to worry about. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for anxiety, there are numerous research-based techniques that can help manage it.
Change ‘What If’ Thinking To ‘What Is’ Thinking
Anxiety usually focuses on things that may or may not happen in the future. It typically focuses on ‘what if’: “What if my actions today costs me all of my friends?” “What if the girls won’t let me sit with them in the cafeteria?” Encourage our son or daughter to let go of ‘what if’ and focus on ‘what is’. Research shows that focusing on the present can help alleviate stress.
Do not strive to remove or avoid stressors that trigger anxiety. Avoidance of anxiety-provoking situations maintains the anxiety. Facing/exposure to his or her fears will teach them that anxiety reduces naturally over time. This is referred to as the “habituation curve.” Our anxiety level may never drop to zero, or as quickly as we would like, but it will drop and that is how they will overcome their fears. Help our son or daughter build up the courage and strength to face their stressors by validating their emotions. Demonstrate that we understand their experience and are listening to what they have to say.
Teach Problem Solving Skills
If our child is capable of generating their own solutions, let them. If they can’t, we can generate some potential solutions for them and then ask our child to pick the solution that he or she thinks would work best. Our goal should not be to solve their problems for them.
Model How To Cope With Anxiety
Children look to their parents to determine how to react in situations. Our child will often do what we do. If we avoid anxiety-provoking situations, so will our child. Similarly, if they see us face our fears, they will too. Stay calm. Let them hear or see us managing our own stress calmly, tolerating it and feeling good about getting through it.
Express confidence that they will be able to manage whatever anxiety they have. Byproducts of the coping skills we teach them will include increased confidence, greater independence and lessened anxiety that may even fall away over time.
Jeremy Skow, LMHC, MBA maintains a private practice in Great Neck, NY. Contact him at 516-322-9133, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.mentalhealthcounselingny.com.