Kids and Anxiety: Not a new problem, but it's a big one!
"I wake up in the morning and I worry I'm already late, then I worry I won't make it to school on time, even though I know if I leave for school at the same time everyday I will get there twenty-two minutes before the first bell rings. I worry about middle school next year, and if I'll get to my next class on time, before the bell rings. I also worry that I am not playing soccer as well as I could. That I could have kicked the ball better. I worry all the time."
"Wow, that is a lot of worry." I said, in a neutral tone, to my daughter's friend while looking at her in my rear view mirror as she sat in the back seat. No surprise, she was gazing out the window, a look of worry clouding her cute face. That entire first paragraph all came tumbling out of her in a stream during a ten minute ride home from practice the other night. I'm not even sure what we were talking about right before she launched into her litany of worries.
All the while I was thinking about my own child and how lately I've seen her begin to show shades of what we encountered two years ago when she [out of nowhere] became highly anxious.
In fact, after writing about our personal experiences during those tough months, I have had several moms share with me their child has suffered (or, is suffering) from similar issues, namely stress induced symptoms like head and tummy aches, not wanting to participate in activities once previously loved, having a hard time getting moving in the morning towards school, or for many, eating lunch at school.
From this mom's perspective....there is A LOT of anxiety going around! (I have to imagine the school nurse, guidance counselor, and principal would agree).
The truth is a little anxiety is okay for our kids, even helpful and motivating at times, according to Renee Jain, founder and chief storyteller over at Go Zen! She should know, she was once a very anxious child who grew up, got educated on this topic, and has turned her fears into a thriving business sharing her passion for guiding other parents and educators through helping young people who worry too much.
Knowing my daughter's past, and having heard so many other stories about both boys and girls in the preteen and teen stage over the past few years who are encountering anxiety, I recently jumped onto a an hour-long conference call Renee held, to find out more about the topic and what I can do if/when it returns, or appears, for my kids.
Here's just a little bit of what I learned:
- When you squash emotions they come out in spurts. For example, if a child does not acknowledge, or pushes down their fears, or, if parents don't acknowledge the child's fears (realistic or not), or minimize them to the child, the emotion can come out in spurts. What you can do: stop reassuring when your child worries! Acknowledge, don't dismiss or continually reassure them they will be fine. Their anxiety, or their challenges with it, are something you cannot control, and it is very real to them.
- When your child is anxious you need to respond, not react. Reacting includes dismissing, minimizing, reassuring. In order to be able to help your child through their anxiety, you will need to ask yourself what kind of energy you are bringing to the situation. Anxiety feeds off of anxiety. So, if your child is anxious and the energy you are bringing to the situation is the same, nothing is going to get better, in fact it will likely get much worse.
- As a parent you need to master your own emotions so you can guide your child through the anxiety and help them learn the coping skills they'll need to use when worries get too big, or better yet, before that happens. In other words, you need to "channel your inner Yoda" to best help your anxious child. Some people need professional help to do this, I know I did.
- When you see or (even better) feel your child is beginning to worry excessively, check in with yourself...how am I feeling, and what am I bringing to this situation right now? If you too are anxious, take a step back and work through your emotions....remembering your greatest job is to guide your child through their emotions.
- Build empathy skills. One of the skills GoZen! teaches is that our kids can become thought detectives. "You are having an anxious thought, tell me about it. What evidence do you have to support the way you're feeling? " Be aware of your tone and what emotion you are bringing into the moment.
- Give your child time to worry. Yes...set aside 10-15 minutes, maybe right after dinner and before a bedtime routine, to think and/or talk about what is going on in their life they are concerned about. Remembering to acknowledge, give empathy, educate...what evidence do you have this is true? Then, when time's up....wrap it up!
I actually mean that literally. Wrap it up. When Nick was about eleven he was having a lot of anxiety around thunderstorms and the possibility of tornadoes. This seemed to come up much more at bedtime. (When I was tired from a full day and ready to have my hour of "me" time). I'd sit on his bed, rub his back, he'd talk while I listened, or we'd just listen to music for a few minutes, then I'd guide him through an exercise I (somehow) came up with wherein he'd "pack up his worries" into boxes, each had it's own space, visually closing the box until tomorrow if he wanted to take it out again, opening the door to his closet, visually setting the box on the top shelf...you get it. (This is a fairly slow exercise, use your most soothing/patient tone).
If you have a child, no matter what age because this can happen at any time, I encourage you to visit GoZen! They use lots of kid-friendly short videos to teach important lessons about anxiety to both children and adults. In fact, they've got a pretty spectacular deal going on the next few days, click here to check it out!
If you have a great strategy that's worked with your anxious child, I'd love to hear about it! Respond below or send hit the "contact" page and send an email. Thanks!