Friday, September 1, 2017

Anxiety in Kids - Part 3: Just Between Us Parents

Previous parts to this article:
Part 1:  Empathy and Calming
Part 2:  Coaching Your Kid Through Life

Show No Shame
Even if you secretly believe that you are to blame for your child's anxiety try to let it go. Parental feelings of failure communicate to your child that you believe they are somehow defective, setting off a domino effect of negative emotions. It can erode their self-confidence, exacerbating their problem by essentially becoming anxious about being anxious. Physical differences are easy to spot, we wouldn’t ask a short person to reach a high shelf without providing some scaffolding; likewise, kids with anxiety need emotional scaffolding, but since it isn’t apparent, they have to ask for it. While they are learning these skills, we need to be able to discuss anxiety with respect and openness with them and others, to show them that they can do the same as they face difficulties in life.

Inform her instructors.
Let her teachers, instructors, and coaches know that she has anxiety and what she typically does to help herself, so her calming exercises won’t be misinterpreted as not paying attention. Also, information about a specific fear can be helpful, e.g., my daughter was terrified of the diving board at the pool and was worried her instructors would make her jump. I let the instructor know she has anxiety, and my daughter asked if the diving board would be part of the lesson and said she needed to be able to to do it when she was ready. If she doesn’t pass, then she doesn’t, but she's still learning other important swimming techniques and I know she'll do it when she's ready.

Give him control.
Anxious kids need to feel in control of their situation, for example, if he’s afraid of being confined to the car during trips, let him pack a kit that includes what he needs to keep himself comfortable and distracted from the situation e.g., a tablet, crayons, paper, snacks, or whatever works.

Teach her the power of “so what”.
So what if everyone in my class is a better swimmer than me? I’m improving.
So what if I get car sick and throw-up? It washes off.
So what if I failed the test? I can study and do better next time.
So what if I never score a goal in soccer? I’m still a good defensive player.

Our anxieties often become self-fulfilling prophecies, by being scared of getting car sick, we get car sick. We get so bound-up mentally about a test that we can’t think, and fail the test. If we let go, or so-what, the fear by remembering that we can shrug off even the worst case in most scenarios, we shrug off the anxiety too. The trick is remembering (and deeply believing) that our intrinsic value as human beings is still intact no matter the outcome of a situation or performance.

Encourage him to educate himself on the topic. 
What to Do When You Worry Too Much, by Dawn Huebner, is an excellent example of a book he can work through himself, if he’s at a second-grade reading level or better. It is also a great read-aloud for younger kids. It was a relief to my daughter to know that there are enough children just like her that someone wrote a book about it. For older kids and teens, the website at is an excellent resource for self-help information.

A word for parents:
If you decide to get outside help, a professional therapist can help your family design an effective solution, and it’s a great starting point. But, nobody knows your child like you do. Listen to all advice selectively, experiment with parts that make sense, and disregard everything else. Be aware that you will need to continually refine your coaching technique as your child moves through the phases of growing up. Your child may never be anxiety free—who is really?—but with your help, he or she may learn to control it and channel that energy into a drive to excel in his or her chosen path in life.

My girl's first-day-of-school face.
The snakes of anxiety can take innumerable forms, from falling asleep at night, to school, to a birthday party, to losing sight of you in the shower—be warned if you drop by my house... Being a parent of an anxious child is often frustrating and disappointing, but remember that your child isn’t trying to give you a hard time, she’s having a hard time. (This is difficult for me--I get so frustrated!) She needs your patience and compassion. It’s amazing how many anxious situations can be diffused by saying, “There’s no rush. I’m right here if you need me.” Also, be conscientious about taking care of yourself, and work in more unscheduled time into your family’s week than you think you need.

Lastly, be kind to yourself, it feels hard because it is hard.

Resources for further reading:
  • Anxiety BC has an informative website at and another at for young people to use by themselves.
  • Go Zen at has animated videos that are helpful for younger kids as well as adolescents.
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America -
  • What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety, by Dawn Huebner

I'd love for you to add your experiences and advice in the comments.  

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