There are times when it is better to say nothing than risk saying the wrong thing. This is the case when dealing with an anxious child. It is not unusual to know an anxious child. In fact, we all know at least one child that seems to question everything. An anxious child will ask questions like “What if someone broke into our house in the middle of the night?” or “What if our house caught on fire?”
Anxious children may need to check something repeatedly to ensure it is done. You may catch them double-checking the lock on the door, or reviewing an assignment for the fifth time. While no parent wants their child to be anxious, it is not always a bad thing. Anxious children are meticulous, but they have a set of worries that are entirely their own.
Anxiety triggers a stress response in the nervous system. A child struggling with anxiety is experiencing sweaty palms, a racing heart, and an upset belly. The best thing to do is to teach them how to alleviate their anxiety. Even if this means double-checking the lock before bed, or letting them sleep with a light on.
If you believe that you may be parenting an anxious child, you likely ask yourself how you can help them daily. Let me help you help them by telling you what not to say.
Everything Will Be Fine
You know that everything is going to be okay, but no matter how many times you tell an anxious child that everything is fine, it will not make a difference. They feel the need to make everything fine. Your child knows that you love them, but their body is physically responding to their anxiety. Your reassuring hug and words will not settle these symptoms.
The best thing you can do is deal with the symptoms first. Encourage your child to practice deep breathing exercises. Once their racing heart slows and their belly feels better, they can better understand what you are trying to tell them.
Let Me Explain
Children have big feelings even when they are not dealing with anxiety. These feelings overpower their ability to understand. Trying to explain away their worries will not help until these big feelings shrink a little bit smaller. Allow them to vent and tell you how they are feeling. Once they’ve told you about their feelings, they may not seem so powerful.
At this point, you can ask your child to envision something. Ask them to picture a happy place in their mind. Let them tell you about the place they are imagining. Once your child is calm, you can explain why there’s no reason to worry.
Quit Worrying So Much
I think one of the biggest disappointments about today’s society is that we expect our children to be adults. We are responsible for their care for a reason. They can not process information the same way an adult does and they can not completely manage their emotions yet. It is our job to teach them to do this. Telling them to ‘quit worrying’ does them no good at all.
Think about this. Money is tight and there are three bills due next week. Christmas is a month away and your hours have been cut at work. Are you worried? Of course, you are. Not only are you struggling with something, but it feels like everything bad that could happen is happening all at once.
Children are overwhelmed much easier than an adult. So your child may be worrying at the same level that you would be if you were in the circumstance explained above. Instead of telling your child to quit worrying explain why we worry. Tell them about the flight or fight response and provide them with an example of when worrying improves a situation.
When your child is anxious, they have enough to worry about. Telling them to ‘quit worrying so much’ will only make them worry about whether or not there is something wrong with them.
Think About It
Instead of trying to prevent your anxious child from worrying, try to teach them how to cope with anxiety. Teach them new exercises that can help calm their mind. There is nothing wrong with your little one, they simply think a lot, and this causes them to worry a lot.
Though it may be hard, remain patient, and teach your child how to help themselves. Anxiety tends to stick around and your anxious child will eventually become an anxious adult. When this happens, they need to know how to calm themselves down.