Everyone struggles with anxiety to some degree. Whether it’s healthy anxiety before a recital or a presentation, or more serious anxiety regarding life & death, or losing a loved one – we’ve all experienced anxiety at one point in our lives.
But our children are most vulnerable to it because anxiety is tied closely to a child’s development and our child’s brain is most malleable during childhood.
What triggers our kids’ worries now will continue to evolve as they get older. It’s so important to figure out how to help our children now, now while they are impressionable and open to our help.
As if that wasn’t eye-opening enough, our kids are growing up in an age of anxiety. According to Sissy Goff, MEd, LPC-MHSP, in the last three years, anxiety in children has become a trend.
Children don’t possess the ability to accurately perceive their situations sometimes, which leads to anxiety or confusion about their circumstances.
So what do we do?
In the amazing book I’ve been reading by Sissy Goff titled “Raising Worry-Free Girls,” she says, “We teach our kids that they are braver that they believe, stronger than they seem and smarter than they think.” That’s the solution.
And then we fight their anxiety with knowledge and coping skills.
As parents, we can’t just wait for it to “get better.”
We can’t see our kids struggling and tell ourselves it’s not a big deal.
And later, we can’t expect medication to do all the work.
We have to show our children that they have the power to fight against their body’s response to stress and fear, and that they are capable of doing whatever they want to do.
After all, anxiety begins in the mind and manifests itself in various ways in our body.
- Maybe your child gets frequent headaches, and doctors don’t know why.
- Maybe your child feels nauseous often, or has regular stomachaches and there’s no obvious cause for it.
Anxiety takes root in the nervous system, and wreaks havoc.
Heightened senses, quickened heart rate, digestive system slows down, blood flow changes.
It’s a lot for a child to experience – or even understand.
Anxiety is a bully. And the only way to get rid of a bully is to confront him.
Tell him he isn’t welcome here. That you’re not having it. He is powerless in this fight with you and your child.
I’ve experienced this first hand and have felt the relief of uninviting my anxiety on family trips and long car rides. You can read more about that here.
We need to help our children identify anxiety’s effects in their body first so that they can recognize the signs right when it starts.
From there, they can get to work shutting it down.
There’s no reasoning with someone logically while their body is in fight or flight mode (i.e. when they are having an anxiety or panic attack). The most important thing to do first is to help our child regulate their breathing and slow their thoughts and heart rate down.
After their body is calm, we can begin a conversation.
I encourage you to ask them what they were thinking about right before their body acted that way.
What was bothering them? Did they see something? Feel something? Think something? Did it happen out of the blue. Sometimes it takes a bit of investigating to find the trigger. See if there was an irregularity in their school day, and see if you can put two-and-two together.
For example, a couple days ago I picked my daughter up from school. When we left, I told her we didn’t have time to play down the hill – plus it was muddy anyway, so we needed to go home. As soon as we got to our truck, my daughter threw herself down on the floor and started screaming. This was TOTALLY out of character for her. I knew something was wrong. She just couldn’t get herself to calm down.
She said, “I never get to play with my friends!” which I knew wasn’t true. Even though that was an exaggeration, I probed a bit. “You got to play with your friends at school today,” I said.
“No I didn’t!” she yelled. “Why not?” I asked. “You guys didn’t go outside today?”
My daughter went on to tell me – after she calmed down some – that her teacher didn’t let them have toy centers that day because they were watching a movie. So, as soon as I told her we couldn’t stay after school, that earlier disappointment triggered a big meltdown.
It completely made sense to me. The meltdown wasn’t ok, but it made sense.
I offered to get both kids a slushy before we headed home, and initially my daughter was still too mad to accept it. “Sometimes a treat makes me feel better when I’m upset about something,” I told her. “Do you want to at least come inside and see what flavors they have?”
With some reluctance, she did decide to come inside and eventually found herself a flavor she liked.
As we walked back towards the truck she told me, “I’m starting to feel a little better Mommy.” ( My daughter is currently five and a half years old)
Talking to our kids about their feelings is so important. As adults, we’re encouraged to keep those feelings to ourselves, but studies – and history – have shown that this is not the healthiest approach.
It’s awkward and uncomfortable to have these conversations sometimes, but they are so necessary.
We are our kid’s emotional support. We show them the way and help them navigate their feelings as they, and their feelings, get better.
If you have questions about how to begin one of these conversations, I would love for you to reach out and send me a message.
(P.S. The book I linked by Sissy Goff is currently on sale at Lifeway for $5 – get yours fast!)
27 thoughts on “Tips For Helping Your Kids Combat Early Anxiety”
Thank you for sharing the details, I really haven´t thought about it, maybe my kids are still small.
And it’s not a guarantee that your kids will struggle with this! I look for it because of the ways I’ve struggled. I hope you don’t see any signs of anxiety in your kids!
Totally agree with you that it’s important we teach our kids to handle anxiety. Thank you for sharing these tips. Would love to read more posts about this in the future.
Thank you so much for your feedback, Clarice!
Yes, one of my worst fears is passing off my anxiety to my daughter. I need to learn these tips in case she shows signs of anxiety so that she can be better equipped to handle it.
It’s good to be prepared! I hope these tips help.
We talk a lot about anxiety with our kids. My 17 year old really struggles with it but we have found him an amazing therapist to help. It is important that they know they can talk to us about it and that it is “normal”. My 8 year old also gets so anxious at times. It is tough.
Exactly. At least I feel like I’m normalizing it for my kids, but I hate to think I have passed it down.
It is good to acknowledge things like anxiety in kids. These are great things to think about.
This is great. I don’t think a lot of parents are well-equipped to deal with dealing with anxiety in their kids.
I need to get this book for my kids. My son really struggles with anxiety.
I think it would be a good one for you!
Oh, anxiety. It’s such a tough one for both kids and adults. It comes in so many shapes and sizes and everyone experiences it differently. You handled your child’s situation very nicely. My son also often gets too mad to refocus from something that got him upset.
I appreciate your feedback! I still struggle, but this is giving me the tools I need to help my kids.
My son dealt with a lot of anxiety when he started 6th grade but seems to be calming down now.
I had to deal with this last night when my daughter was studying for her algebra quiz. I had to talk her through slowing down and taking her time so that she can focus on the problem at hand.
I’ve been trying to work on teaching my children coping skills lately, I’ve been thinking about so much that you wrote about here. I’ve been realizing that if I can teach them coping skills as children that it will help them so much when they are older.
It really will! That’s my goal.
I’m so glad we’re now openly discussing kids and anxiety. It’s so important to give kids (or anyone) time and a bit of space to figure out the why. Great tips. I can’t wait to read the book!
It really is. But it’s important as parents for us to know what could be going on so that we can guide our kids.
I’m so glad we are talking about anxiety and kids now. My kids are grown and when they were younger, people would often refer to kids who had meltdowns and being “dramatic” when this was not the case at all. Like you, I’ve often found giving someone (even kids) space so they can identify what they are really upset about is important. I can’t wait to read this book.
While I agree that it’s important to find a way to cope with anxiety, I think offering food when upset isn’t the best idea as that can lead to unhealthy food habits. (stress eating/overeating). As someone with anxiety, this is one of my biggest struggles. I eat to make myself feel better and that’s how I ended up overweight. I found therapy to help me the most.
I do understand what you’re saying, and I take that into consideration with them. I’m not teaching them unhealthy eating habits though – I.e. binging. A treat here and there is fine.
My daughter has been seeing a therapist for her anxiety. It’s so important not to brush it off. Anxiety is real even in young ones.
It’s so true! I support therapy wholeheartedtrdly.
This is a great post and topic to cover, many adults deal with anxiety but I don’t think many people think about children having it as well.
I think you’re right. It’s good to be aware!