Is your child…
- Chronically worried? Does he or she have more heightened worry during transition periods like the beginning of the school year?
- Often wondering “what if?”
- Struggling socially?
- Not bouncing back after setbacks?
- Isolating herself/himself, not expressing their feelings?
These are all signs of anxiety, which can lead to feelings of powerlessness for both you and your child.
As parents, we only want what is best for our children. We just want them to be happy and healthy. So, when we find our children struggling in this way, our natural instinct is to jump in and problem solve. While that may be well intended, and eventually you can step in and help support them in this way, there are a few important ways we can respond to them first – these include being aware and being there.
Being AWARE involves slowing down and noticing what our children are trying to communicate to us. Sometimes, children come right out and tell us they are worried or scared or nervous. However, when our children are hurting emotionally they often don’t tell us with their words, they show us through their behaviour.
The following behaviours may indicate that your child is anxious:
- Chandeliering – this is a term used for describing the outburst of hurt or anger that occurs when they try to stuff their difficult emotions. One small trigger can cause them to “hit the roof” (or chandelier)
- Avoiding – not wanting to engage in activities or commitments that used to be enjoyable
- Numbing - turning to things/behaviours that distract them from feeling the difficult emotions (i.e. video games, social media, food etc.)
- Bouncing Hurt – this can be seen through acting out with aggression or anger towards others.
Get curious about these behaviours. This is an opportunity to connect with our children, not a time to put them in a time out or discipline them in some way. Don’t beat yourself up if this has been your default, many well-intentioned parenting instructors, who may not be familiar with the origin of worry, give this advice.
This is a time when we, as parents, need to take a deep breath. Deep breathing will help us remain, or bring us back, to a calmer state. It can be very unsettling and easy to get emotionally flooded when our children are emotionally charged in any of the ways listed above.
Before jumping in to problem solve, which is what we instinctively want to do in an attempt to take away their pain, we can do something even more meaningful in that moment – BE THERE for them.
Being THERE involves:
Helping them notice and label their emotions. “You seem angry that you have to go to school”
Helping them notice and label their reactions. “I can see you are tightening your fists and breathing fast. It looks like you are frustrated and maybe a little anxious”
Giving them permission to experience all emotions. “It’s okay for you to get ____________ (angry, frustrated and/or worried)”
Active listening. This involves paraphrasing what they are saying so they have evidence that you hear them. “I hear that you are worried about having a new teacher”
Letting them know they are not alone. “We all feel that way sometimes”
Letting them know you care. Reach out, touch them on the shoulder. “We love you. You are safe.”
Giving them space. “I’m going to give you some space, but I’m here if you need me. I’m not going to leave.”
As a therapist and a mom myself, I understand that having a child who experiences anxiety can be extremely overwhelming. Self-care and reaching out for support can help alleviate and reduce some of the stress that you experience as a parent. Please remember to include yourself in the circle of care.