We’ve all experienced anxiety at one time or another. You feel your heart rate pick up, your palms are sweaty, your stomach works itself into knots and you just can’t focus straight on the tasks at hand. But, children who have anxiety and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) can be difficult to talk to or comfort once the initial signs of anxiety have kicked in. For parents who are experienced and non-experienced, here are some great tips for talking to and with your anxious child/children.
1. Mommy said, “It’s going to be OK. Trust me.”
I wish I could have said, “Mommy, I know you’re trying to make me feel better, but my mind is telling me the opposite: ‘It’s NOT going to be OK.’ And my body seems to be responding to my mind. My heart is racing, my palms are sweating, and my tummy feels funny. It’s hard for your loving words to overpower what’s happening inside of me.”
Try this: Respond to your child’s nervous system first. Help them calm down with deep breathing. This can take the mind and body from fight-or-flight to rest-and-digest mode.
2. Daddy said, “There’s nothing to be scared of.”
I wish I could have said, “Daddy, remember the first time you asked Mommy out on a date? Remember your first day at a new job? Or remember the time when you got in that bike accident? Maybe your parents knew everything was going to be OK, too, but you didn’t know that. You experienced real fear. My fear is real too.”
Try this: Validate your child’s emotions. You can say, “I see that you’re scared. I’ve been scared before too, and I know what that feels like.”
3. Mommy said, “Let me tell you all the reasons you don’t have to worry.”
I wish I could have said, “Mommy, I know that what you’re saying makes sense. It’s just that it’s hard to think clearly and logically in this moment. I have a lot of feelings right now and I’m just focusing on those. It’s just really hard to think clearly.”
Try this: Calm the nervous system with a visualization exercise. Ask your child to envision a still, quiet place. Ask them to breathe in and out in a way that’s comfortable and to describe this place to you. Once your child is calm, discuss with the idea that feelings are not necessarily facts. Feelings can be challenged by saying, “Hey, I don’t think you’re really true!” Self-disputation is a great way to quell worry.
4. Daddy shouted, “STOP BEING SUCH A WORRIER!”
I wish I could have said, “Daddy, I know that you’re frustrated and even angry. This makes me feel so bad because I want to stop being a worrier; I really do. I want it to stop, but I just don’t know how. I wish I knew how.”
Try this: To the best of your ability, do not label your child. Instead, when they’re in a relaxed state, explain the evolutionary basis of worry. Seriously? Yes! Kids love to know that worry has a purpose and that everyone worries to some extent.
5. Mommy and Daddy said, “We can’t understand why you’re so worried.”
I wish I could have said, “I know you don’t understand, but I need you to try. I need you to try to understand what I’m going through. Put your hand on my racing heart, listen to my shallow breath, look at me… this is real. I want you to understand. I need you to understand. Please tell me you get it. Please.”
Try this: When your child feels anxious, try to recall a time when you felt true fear. Then connect with your child using these three words: “I get it.” Let your child know that you see that they are going through something challenging. Let your child know that you really see them.
Hopefully, these are some great tips for talking with your anxious child. Did they give you a better insight on how to communicate with your anxious child? Let us know in the comments.